Ah, the first book review of the New Year. I can’t really read a lot at the moment due to the Terrifying Writing-Related Impending Deadlines that are looming over my head like scythes, but when a copy of Belinda Bauer’s new book Darkside popped through the letterbox on Christmas Eve morning, I knew I’d have to make an exception.
“Shipcott in bleak midwinter: a close-knit community where no stranger goes unnoticed. So when an elderly woman is murdered in her bed, village policeman Jonas Holly is doubly shocked. How could someone have entered, and killed, and left no trace? Jonas finds himself sidelined as the investigation is snatched away from him by an abrasive senior detective. Is his first murder investigation over before it’s begun? But this isn’t the end for Jonas, because someone in the village blames him for the tragedy. Someone seems to know every move he makes. Someone thinks he’s not doing his job. And when the killer claims another vulnerable victim, these taunts turn into sinister threats. Blinded by rising paranoia, relentless snow and fear for his own invalid wife, Jonas strikes out alone on a mystifying hunt. But the threats don’t stop – and neither do the murders…”
About a third of the way through this book, I guessed who the killer was. I’m not especially good at figuring these things out, but I read a lot of crime and I know that one of the Immutable Laws of Crime-Writing Physics states that when the killer is revealed, he or she must be a character we’ve already met somewhere along the way, and as Darkside is set in a small village with a relatively small cast of characters – few of whom are viable suspects – it was difficult for Bauer to completely hide the killer’s identity.
You might think that this would have ruined the rest of the book for me – in the midst of it, I myself feared it might. However now that I’ve finished it I wonder if perhaps I was supposed to figure it out, or if when or whether I did didn’t matter, because the killer’s identity is not necessarily the real shock at the end of this book. (And because I knew who the killer was or suspected I did, the story took on an added dimension, like watching a hapless blonde from some horror movie walk into a dark room where you know the killer is waiting, and wanting to scream, “Look out behind you!”) It’s hard to say what I want to say about this book without being in danger of giving something away, so I’ll just say this: the ending of this book is astonishing. I gasped. I closed the book. I put the book down in my lap while I took it in. And what’s shocking is not so much the reveal of the killer’s identity, but what happens then, and what happens next.
This is another stellar achievement from Bauer. I enjoyed it even more than Blacklands, and Blacklands was one of my favorite books of 2010. Darkside is set in the same small Exmoor town of Shipcott (and Blacklands‘ Steven Lamb even makes an appearance or two), but it has a very different feel. For one thing, it’s very funny – I even laughed out loud a few times. Detective Chief Inspector Marvel fancies himself as a character from a Quentin Tarintino movie or even CSI, and his treatment of Jonas Holly, the hapless local bobby assigned to protect Shipcott’s inhabitants, is frequently hilarious.
When your debut is hailed as Crime Novel of the Year and wins all sorts of awards, a writer could be forgiven for producing an inferior second title. Going into this, I was expecting a good book, but ultimately to say, “Well, I liked it – but I still prefer Blacklands.” Instead, Bauer has – in my opinion – written an even better book, a far more complex crime novel than her first, and constructed an ending to it that will leave you feeling as I do now, which is a little bit shell-shocked.
All I can say is: wow. (And I still can’t believe that ending!)
And will one of you please go and read it so we can discuss? Or tell me if you have already. I’m bloody well bursting here!
Thank you Transworld for my copy!