Review: Jackal - Erin A. Adams
Published: Bantam, October 2022 My Rating: 2/5 stars
“Myths are as much a part of the slipstream of Black life as joy. Yes, Black folks are masters of joy. Trauma isn’t the only thing carried in DNA. Blackness, like any Golden Fleece, is both a birthright and what lies at the end of a quest.”
Jackal is one of the most extreme examples of how a poor ending can completely ruin an otherwise strong book. I knew going in, that this was met with mixed reviews upon release. Up until about the 85% mark, I was truly confused as to why: the writing was strong, the social commentary was well done and the mystery kept me engaged. Then the final 50 pages just lost the plot…
Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town with a bloody history in more ways than one. Every couple of years, a young black girl has gone missing in the woods surrounding the town, only to be found brutally murdered some time later. This pattern has repeated for as long as Liz can remember, but police take no interest in the cases.
When Liz’s returns for a weekend back in Johnstown, in order to attend her best friend’s wedding, she braces herself for passive-aggressive reunions. She didn’t brace herself for another disappearance. Yet when the bride’s daughter Caroline becomes the next black girl in line to go missing, Liz takes it upon herself to find out what is really going on in the underbelly of her hometown, and who or what is to blame for these horrific disappearances.
What I loved:
As mentioned: I was fully on board for the first 250+ pages. Adams’ strong writing created a tense atmosphere of claustrophobia in this small town community, where the undercurrent of racism and prejudice create a constant sense of unwelcomeness. It makes perfect use of one of my favourite tropes: a main character having to return to their hometown, and experiencing the deep-rooted effects of their upbringing here, despite thinking they’ve gotten out.
Racism, classism, and the injustices of the Justice-system, especially within American culture, are strong themes here. To me, as a non-American, reading about these topics is fascinating and frightening, despite not being personally relatable. I cannot speak to the accuracy of the representation, but based off own-voice reviews I’ve read, it was well done.
The book had me truly on edge, because of how realistic this lingering sense of mistrust, superstition and grudge felt. All the more disappointing when the ending didn’t evoke that same feeling.
What I didn’t love:
It’s almost impossible for me to explain how poorly done this ending was without spoiling it, but I’ll try my best anyway. In short; it boils down to a reveal and climax that felt rushed, out of left field, and ultimately mismatched with the style and themes of what came before.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Throughout the story, both natural and supernatural threats are hinted at, so I would’ve been fine with either ending, since proper foreshadowing was present. It was the way in which the ending was presented that ruined the story for me. It felt extremely exposition-heavy. The reveal of the identity of the killer is followed by a scene of an almost “villain-monologue”, in which they explain their motivations, background and MO in detail. The delivery feels so clunky and artificial that it breaks down the power off what came before.
Then there’s the issue of the reveal not matching the rest of the story. As mentioned: I would’ve been fine with either a supernatural-, natural- or combined explanation. But fucking ANUBIS!?! Absolutely nothing in the story (either culturally, thematically or plot-wise) even remotely pointed there. I would’ve been fine with an original entity, or perhaps even a culturally relevant God with links to themes of prejudice/revenge etc… But dragging in an Egyptian death-god, which by the way is a gross oversimplification of the actual cultural relevance of Anubis in Egyptian culture, felt misplaced and inappropriate. For a novel that has so many great things to say about racism, this “taking” of an oversimplified version of another cultures God, felt eerily close to cultural appropriation to me.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.