Book Review: You Know Her by Meagan Jennett

A crackling cat-and-mouse thriller set against the verdant backdrop of small-town Virginia, Meagan Jennett’s You Know Her probes the boundaries of female friendship and the deadly consequences when frustration ferments into rage. Read on for Jenny Maloney's review!

Meagan Jennett’s debut thriller You Know Her delivers an exceptional cat-and-mouse storyline centered on two dynamic women. One a killer. One a cop. Both fighting against a world which ignores, belittles, and angers them. Told in a gorgeous literary style, Jennett has created two characters who will live with you long after the final page is turned. Sophie is a bartender trying to get through a crowded New Years Eve night when a man, a patron friend-of-the-owner, steals her celebratory bottle of wine. Then he has the audacity to ask her for a ride home. He won’t make it home. Nora is new to the detective arena and is already haunted by “haints”—ghosts of those who have died violent deaths. 

When Sophie’s first victim is found, the investigation brings the two women in contact. Nora, who is battling against a team that views her as a diversity hire, forms a bond with Sophie. But as bodies accumulate in the small town, she grows suspicious of Sophie and must convince her trainer and her team that a woman is capable of this violence. No one believes her. It’s ridiculous to think the serial killer haunting this small Virginia town is a woman.    

Which brings me to the cornerstone amazingness of Jennett’s story. She has created a believable, rather terrifying, female serial killer. Having just finished reading Peter Vronsky’s non-fiction book The Female Serial Killer, I seem to be reading along a thematic line. One line from Vronsky’s book kept repeating in my mind as I read Jennett’s beautiful debut: “While for many serial killers death is only a conclusion to their fantasy or a function of it, females kill to kill.” 

Females kill to kill. It’s not about delighting in the act. If a woman wants to kill you, you will be dead. Period. For me as a reader, I’ve struggled in the past with fictional women serial killers behaving in patterns more in line with male serial killers. (The notable exception until this very book was Chelsea Cain’s “Heartsick” series.) Here, Jennett leans into a woman’s sensibility. Sophie isn’t daydreaming about strangling men and mutilating corpses as part of some twisted sexual-power fantasy. No. Initially, she’s just trying to get through her shift at work and the night increasingly gets worse and worse. When she finally snaps—and I am not endorsing snapping and killing people who annoy you, by the way—it’s almost understandable and, in the end, efficient. When she decides she’s going to kill this man…she kills to kill. 

Adding verisimilitude to the motivations is Jennett’s command of language. I would wallow in her prose for days. On occasion, Jennett’s doctorate of fine arts might invade the text a bit, with chapter titles like “Judith Slays Holofernes” and characters quoting English poetry, but otherwise the tactile sensations she evokes are brilliant. (And, it should be stated, “Judith Slays Holofernes” is a mind-blowing chapter.) The long, flowing chapters are occasionally punctuated by one-sentence or one-paragraph sections which create emphasis and allowed me to both catch my breath and sometimes laugh. However, Sophie is nothing if not practical and Jennett has managed to blend the reasonable with the lyrical with her language:

It is easier to kill a man than they tell you, so long as you know what to feel for. His throat, like yours, like mine, is flanked by two identical and quite exposed branches of carotid artery. These long, thick ropes of collagen and smooth muscle contain the bustling thoroughfare of red blooming blood cells as they rush upward and away with each strong beat of heart. 


Take your fingers. Press them into the hollow space just behind the curve of your jaw. Can you feel it? That beat. Strong and insistent.

But Sophie isn’t the only character with an intriguing point of view and gorgeous language. I fell in love with Nora in her very first chapter, where Jennett creates a sense of gravitas by introducing the fact that Nora is haunted by victims. This point of view contrasts deeply with Sophie’s medical, distant viewpoint. It give you a sense that Nora cares, deeply, and adds some urgency to her sense of justice. After all, if your mind will never let you rest if you don’t solve the crime…you’ll want to solve the crime. Otherwise, Nora will have to live with: 

The dead girl lay at the end of the hallway. Shadows slithered across her moolit body, fattening as they stretched around a curve, pooling in the broken crook of an arm. A few splintered off to twist through pale strands of hair that hung over her face, a macabre curtain dropped at the end of the show. Above her, a spiderweb of shattered glass crisscrossed the window; its panes smashe upon impact with her head once, twice, over and over until bits of bone sprayed out the back of her skull. As Nora Martin padded barefoot down her shadowy hallway, a breath, a breeze, a gasp, slipped through that ruined pane and wrapped itself around her ankles.


Lauren Morris, age twenty-one. Throttled. Beaten.

You Know Her is a glorious read. Meagan Jennett has created a world that’s easy to fall into, despite its dark shadows. With believable characters and almost magical language, the pages will turn almost by themselves. 

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