Review: Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern

★★★★★ Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern

Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern is a sinister thriller with countless twists.

By the time you finish reading Daddy Dearest, you’ll have shivers down your spine and a new appreciation for the dark depths through which an author can drag you. This chilling novel tells the story of a father who is far more than he seems, and the sinister series of events that end up forever changing his life – and the life of his young daughter.

From the outset of this endlessly twisted story, it’s clear that the authorial voice is a unique one, and the way the nameless narrator is depicted creates an immediate air of mystery that is impossible to deny. The cryptic narration, the simple thought structures of the internal monologue, and the generally creepy tone of the story draws readers in, and by the end of Chapter 3, when the first of many twists is revealed, it’s difficult not to be hooked.

Like a great literary onion, one can peel back more and more layers to the apparent kidnapping of the protagonist’s daughter, and every revelation seems more unbelievable than the last. Along the way, we also learn more about the man himself – his sexual past and proclivities, his failings as a father, his harsh mental battles, and his weakness as a human.

Things are never what they seem in a truly great suspense novel. As readers learn by the midpoint of the novel, everything they thought was happening had been a façade. Misdirection is the key to every great magic trick, and the same is true with the perfect crime. The book gets even more interesting once readers begin to understand why and how the elaborate plot has been orchestrated, but like every great spider web, it is bound to unravel. Without giving away too much of the plot, be prepared to pick your jaw off the floor every 15 pages or so, because this book will grab you by the throat and not let go. The writing is intense and subtly beautiful – patient and professionally constructed.

The novel is particularly strong in its character placement of foils. For example, “Sherlock,” the detective investigating the man’s missing daughter, continues nipping at the protagonist’s heels and driving his desperation and paranoia to such a degree that it is palpable in the pages. When the net begins to close in and all the secrets threaten to explode, the tension pulsing in the chapters is truly incredible. The last 25 pages fly by, because by that time the entire house of cards is crumbling. Like the end of any great thriller, the audience knows more than some of the characters, but there is never a clear hint as to how this dark mystery will end.

The writing is well balanced between action/dialogue and long, self-reflective passages from a distraught man who has potentially made the biggest mistake of his life. Paul Southern also depicts urban life in brutal, unforgiving prose, allowing his descriptive powers to stretch their muscles and maintain an atmosphere of grittiness that pervades every scene.

The ability to mastermind the psychological meltdown of a character and artfully wind it into a gripping storyline is a gift most authors don’t possess, but Paul Southern does in spades. The book is both intimate and disturbing, revealing a shadowy side to human nature and the extraordinary lengths that some people will go to find personal peace.

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Daddy Dearest

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