Preston Allen’s 2024 novel, I Disappeared Them is a riveting exploration of human complexity, blending elements of mystery, psychological depth, and societal commentary into a compelling narrative. It evokes disgust and rage from the reader, but also at times empathy and a sense of relatability as we struggle to answer the age-old question of nature versus nurture in this gritty, horrific thriller.

Allen creates a main character, Poe, who is not only a cold-blooded serial killer, but much more complicated than that. He is also a father, a husband, a son, and a friend. He commits depraved acts on his victims but operates under a sort of savior complex in which he believes he is ridding the world of bad men, thereby saving women from them. Allen forces us out of the black and white, the good versus evil, and into a gray area where roles are muddled together and lines are blurred.

 

Unpopular and awkward as a child, Poe is almost two completely separate characters in his own mind. One is a perpetual victim for his weight, upbringing, and lack of social graces. The man who ended up with his childhood crush and had three children who he loves and provides for as a pizza delivery man. Then there is the hunter, a calculated murderer stalking and dispatching his prey with no remorse. A man who feels that he is doing the right thing and sees himself as a savior of women.  He has depth and dimension and, whether we like it or not, there are parts of him that we relate to. 

This book doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details of Poe’s murders, but it doesn’t revel in them either. They are described matter of factly much in the same way as the rest of the hunter’s day-to-day activity. In fact, for a book about the inner workings of the mind of a serial killer, this book is at times quite laborious. A lot of the book explores Poe’s childhood which, while not an idyllic childhood, isn’t exactly marred with trauma and abuse either. Poe was an orphan who was teased for being overweight and awkward and often felt that he lived in the shadow of his charismatic, handsome best friend. But with how depraved he is as an adult, one would’ve expected a much more tragic upbringing or at least one that was a bit more interesting. 

Allen’s novel is written in short, somewhat fragmented chapters that seem to mirror the hunter’s own thought processes and disjointed memories. We are taken from his murders to his home life to his childhood with seemingly no rhyme or reason, but this works as it gives readers the feeling of being in Poe’s stream of consciousness. It gives us insight as to what he thinks shaped him into who he has become and how he justifies his heinous acts, up to and including his downfall. That being said, the novel feels stagnant at times and, for a book that spans most of a man’s life, it’s hard to describe what, if anything, actually happens over the course of the book.

 

Author Preston L. Allen

At best it feels like a man stuck in the past, pitying himself for not being popular or charismatic and while I Disappeared Them may not be the thrill-a-minute book readers expect, it has a way of quietly getting into your head. Allen’s choice of format makes readers feel like they’re getting into Poe’s mind and perhaps he gets into theirs a bit in return. What makes a serial killer? What causes someone’s mind to snap? How does someone so depraved, so deluded, justify their actions to themselves? Are killers born or made? These are questions I Disappeared Them strives to answer and, in its own way, it succeeds. We see only what the hunter wants us to see and what he sees as the formative moments in his life, the things that lead to him being a merciless killer.

While his lackluster childhood may not seem like enough to trigger a man to spiral into madness, it evidently is what Poe thinks turned him into the man he becomes. And, perhaps, it is also what humanizes him and makes him a somewhat relatable, at times almost sympathetic character. And even though Allen’s novel may not be destined for the bestseller list, I Disappeared Them is a book that eats away at you slowly, lingering in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page.

I Disappeared Them: A Novel is available to purchase from Amazon here.

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