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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Those We Thought We Knew

Narrator: MacLeod Andrews

Penguin Audio

ISBN: 9780525536918

Publication Date: 08/01/2023

Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)

From award-winning writer David Joy comes a searing new novel about the cracks that form in a small North Carolina community and the evils that unfurl from its center.

Toya Gardner, a young Black artist from Atlanta, has returned to her ancestral home in the North Carolina mountains to trace her family history and complete her graduate thesis. But when she encounters a still-standing Confederate monument in the heart of town, she sets her sights on something bigger.

Meanwhile, local deputies find a man sleeping in the back of a station wagon and believe him to be nothing more than some slack-jawed drifter. Yet a search of the man’s vehicle reveals that he is a high-ranking member of the Klan, and the uncovering of a notebook filled with local names threatens to turn the mountain on end.

After two horrific crimes split the county apart, every soul must wrestle with deep and unspoken secrets that stretch back for generations. Those We Thought We Knew is an urgent unraveling of the dark underbelly of a community. Richly drawn and bracingly honest, it asks what happens when the people you’ve always known turn out to be monsters, what do you do when everything you ever believed crumbles away?

My Review

Master southern storyteller David Joy (fav author) returns following When These Mountains Burn (2020) with his fifth novel and latest masterpiece, THOSE WE THOUGHT WE KNEW —lyrical and powerful, a gripping murder mystery unraveling of the dark underbelly and racist history of a North Carolina rural town.

In the summer of 2019, Toya Gardner, a young 24-year-old Black talented female artist, returns to rural North Carolina (Jackson County) to visit with her grandmother, Vess Jones, while completing her college work.

In Atlanta, where Toya lives, she actively participates in organizations to bring attention to racial injustice, among other causes. Some believe this is creating disturbance and turmoil.

Vess Jones is a longtime friend of Sheriff John Coggins, an older white man that was best friends with Vess' deceased husband. Coggins is near retirement.

In the meantime, two deputies discover a man sleeping in his car. (William Dean Cawthorn, Klansman). While searching the vehicle, they come across disturbing items, including a white bedsheet (hood) firearm, and a notebook containing names and numbers of influential people from the region.

Toya does not like some things happening in the area. Cawthorn and some white supremacists cause a riot (due to the Confederate statute) where anti-racists are protesting, including Toya. Toya winds up dead later on.

Also, Coggins' deputy is badly beaten by the Klan. Detective Leah Green is working on the case. There are two horrific crimes. Some consider themselves non-racists, but are they?

Words cannot adequately convey in a simple review the importance of this book and its impact. David is a gifted storyteller, taking readers back in history to different generations from both sides of the fence. Joy's writing is lush, vivid, raw, and atmospheric; as always, I highlighted multiple passages and enjoyed Toya's tenacious character and love of art.

THOSE WE THOUGHT WE KNEW is thought-provoking and compelling, with essential takeaways and a mix of riveting crime fiction. Joy masterfully explores generational racism and hatred as well as love and forgiveness.

The author confronts the racism embedded in the culture of the rural South. He forces his White characters to face the misplaced values they learned as children and to remember new episodes they have chosen to forget or ignore.

As an NC native, it is disturbing our Southern dark history and the many injustices of slavery and beyond. Books like this are essential to capture these timely issues and how they affect others and future generations. Joy fans will devour —for fans of authors Ron Rash and Dennis Lehane and those who enjoy Southern dark mysteries. Highly recommend!

Thanks to #partner PENGUIN GROUP, G.P. Putnam's Sons, for a gifted ARC via NetGalley for my honest opinion. I also pre-ordered the audiobook narrated by a favorite, MacLeod Andrews.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: Aug 1, 2023

My Rating: 5 Stars


One of CrimeReads's Most Anticipated Crime Fiction of Summer 2023

“[A] searing stunner of a book...It's like a Nina Simone song that contains ‘an infinite sort of sadness,’ yet closes with a promise of hope.”

–Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Part mystery, part social commentary.”

–Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Gripping, gritty, suspenseful, and fearless.”

–Garden & Gun

“Joy weaves the stories together and comes out the other side with a richly-layered vision of a small town living through the broader crises of a divided nation increasingly enamored with violence.”


“The mystery at the novel’s heart plays out in an unexpected way, with Joy employing a deft touch to the plotting....An emotionally complex procedural that goes to unexpected places.”

–Kirkus Reviews

"Joy [gets] the reader invested in his characters and conveys a clear sense of small-town life."

–Publishers Weekly

“Those We Thought We Knew is a beautifully fearless contemplation. The best novels ask the hard questions and task us to come up with answers. Joy is asking the hardest question and daring us to answer truthfully.”

–S.A. Cosby, author of Razorblade Tears and All the Sinners Bleed

"In every line of this outstanding novel, you feel David Joy’s deep connection to the mountains he comes from and the people who live there. With his faultless ear for dialogue and exceptional sense of place, he has crafted a beautiful literary crime thriller about belonging and betrayal in rural America."

–Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and A Slow Fire Burning

“Those We Thought We Knew is a screaming wound bleeding fiery poetry. This is a brilliant novel about racism, generational trauma, reckoning with the past, and the way awfulness tends to hide in the places you least expect it. A heartfelt, brutally honest portrait of the heart and roots of the North Carolina mountains that echoes the entire country. Powerful. Timely. Necessary. Read it.”

–Gabino Iglesias, author of The Devil Takes You Home

“In Those We Thought We Knew, community is a double-edged sword: a source of comfort, memory, and belonging, but also treacherous terrain where the roots of intolerance and old ways of thinking run deep. Joy takes us into the hearts and minds of characters of all stripes—bad actors and do-gooders, cynics and true-believers—in this revealing portrait of modern America. Not many writers could write so unflinchingly or so honestly. Those We Thought We Knew is a book for our time: poignant, fearless, and best of all, true.” –Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar and We Are Each Other’s Harvest

“Those We Thought We Knew is a dark cyclone in search of truth. Spinning the gritty complexities and colors of human nature with beautiful, immersive descriptions of the land, Joy writes both holiness and irreverence with the same weight and care. A writer to be trusted, he is one of our best.”

–Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Half-Blown Rose

About the Author

David Joy is the author of the Edgar nominated novel Where All Light Tends to Go (Putnam, 2015), as well as the novels The Weight Of This World (Putnam, 2017), The Line That Held Us (Putnam, 2018), and When These Mountains Burn (Putnam, 2020). His memoir, Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey (Bright Mountain Books, 2011), was a finalist for the Reed Environmental Writing Award and the Ragan Old North State Award for Creative Nonfiction. His latest stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Garden & Gun, and The Bitter Southerner. He is the recipient of an artist fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council. His work is represented by Julia Kenny of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. He lives in Jackson County, North Carolina. read more



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