‘On the Savage Side’ is well-written novel based on the Chillicothe Six murders

Between May 3, 2014 and May 11, 2015 six women disappeared in the Chillicothe area. Some of them were found later, murdered. Was this the work of a serial killer? Those crimes have never been solved. One wonders if they ever will be. If the victims had been affluent perhaps investigating these homicides might have been more of a priority. Hard to say, right?

The women now known as the Chillicothe Six dwelled on the margins of society. They lived in poverty. Some were prostitutes. Some were drug addicts. And as they vanished one by one, meeting cruel fates, their former presence becoming absences, just like that, who mourned for them? Who cared about them?

Somebody did. They weren’t mere statistics in a crime ledger. Tiffany McDaniel cared. She knew one of the doomed women when they were girls at school. McDaniel was determined to bring some attention to their tragedies. Her new novel, “On the Savage Side,” is based on their stories.

McDaniel moved the clock back. In her book the fictional victims of a possible spree killer died decades sooner. The chronology doesn’t matter much, some women have always been treated like they are unworthy of concern, and somehow disposable.

The story is told mostly from the viewpoint of Arcade. She and her identical twin, Daffodil, live with their mother and an aunt in a decrepit house in the bad part of town. Their father died from an overdose. Their mother and Aunt Clover are junkies. Not much of a life, right?

Mamaw Milkweed, their grandmother, gained custody of the twins when they were small and their lives had become fairly normal. Then their parents claimed they had cleaned up their acts and regained custody of the girls. They quickly spiraled back into their addictions, dragging their daughters with them through a grinding maw of hopelessness.

Their mother rarely left her bed. Random men, her clients, visit her there. One man begins to invade Arcade’s bedroom. She calls him “The Spider,” He is pure evil. There are others. They call them the “johns.” Little girls being raised around needles and perverts and despair. What chance did they have?

As Arcade becomes a teenager we meet her friends, women who are dealing with similar scary situations. Most of the men we meet in “On the Savage Side” are disturbing, we keep wondering, is this one the killer? Arcade starts finding bodies in the river, women from the neighborhood.

These women had hopes and aspirations. They wanted to get out of Chillicothe. They tried to get off heroin. They envisioned better lives and shared those dreams with one another.

One by one they die, vanishing from the unforgiving streets where predators roam. “On the Savage Side” is gorgeously written. If you are looking for humor or hope then this is not the book for you. It’s gritty and dark and we feel for these lost souls. This must have been a difficult book to write. But it really had to be written.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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