My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
Length: 320 pages
Release date: 13 June 2017
When notorious child abductor – known as the Marsh King – escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.
No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena’s past: they don’t know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve – or that her father raised her to be a killer.
And they don’t know that the Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone… except, perhaps his own daughter.
“If a person were to look down from above and draw a line through the prints from where I’m standing to extrapolate where the man and the dog are traveling, the line would end at my house.
Which means we’re not playing for my dog. We’re playing for my family.”
The Marsh King’s Daughter is totally fucked up in more ways than I can articulate, and it’s not fun. Oh no. It’s the exact opposite. It’s a riveting and dark psychological thriller, where every time you think you have the villain figured out, he goes and does something that makes you reevaluate everything that came before. The book’s format of alternating one chapter in the present and one chapter from Helena’s childhood means that you don’t see the full story with its gaps filled in until the very end. There’s a glimpse here, a detail there of our protagonist’s past, but the meat of it is left for the final act, and it’s done quite masterfully.
The chapters about Helena’s childhood have a lot of that Natascha Kampusch/Jaycee Lee Dugard vibe. I’d say 3096 Days, but more personal and a lot more violent. In terms of evil, Jacob Holbrook falls about halfway in between Wolfgang Priklopil and Ramsay Bolton, so while trigger warnings are a must, I guess you can find some redeeming quality in the narcissistic son of a bitch. I for one have zero sympathy towards him, and for much of the book was annoyed by how often Helena took his side. Yes, I get why that was necessary from a narrative and emotional standpoint, but it was still painful to see how tightly she still held on to the idolising image of her father from her youth.
(Long sidenote: You know what, I feel like criminal psychopath apologists should all read this. I’m looking at you, Columbine fans. And you, Charles Manson groupies. It might do them a lot of good, or then again, it might not. There’s a line past which you can’t be persuaded to reason anymore, and you cross that line when you’ve somehow managed to convince yourself that Ted Bundy did nothing wrong.)
On to my biggest issue and the reason why I can’t rate this book any higher: The pacing. It. Goes. Like. This. Nothing really happens in terms of plot for the first 50% of the novel, so it’s a testament to the rock-solid character development that I still felt engaged enough to keep going. For such an intriguing premise, I expected a lot more action than I actually got. Then, when the action finally starts, there’s an inordinate amount of cliffhanger bait: A present-day chapter ends with what seems like an explosive game changer, we segue to another scene from the past that becomes a bit of a slog, then we return to the present-day and find a huge cop-out when what was written as a bang turns out to be just a fizzle. The lack of action isn’t a terrible problem in and of itself, seeing as the book’s value lies in the exquisite mind games of the world’s worst father-daughter relationship, but Dionne shouldn’t have to resort to cheap cliffhangers. The Marsh King’s Daughter is better off presenting itself as exactly what it is: a dark psychological drama stuffed with tension, fear, and dread.