August 22, 2011

BOOKS: Darkside, Belinda Bauer (2011)

There's a serial killer at work in the small English village of Shipcott. His victims are elderly, people whose frailty and disabilities have made them burdens to their families. Village constable Jonas Holly is nervous about what would be his first murder investigation, but he's rapidly pushed to the side by John Marvel, the inspector from the nearest large regional police department.

Feeling guilty and inadequate, Jonas is goaded into investigating on his own by a series of anonymous, taunting notes ("Call yourself a policeman?") that accuse him of failing to protect Shipcott as he ought to have done. Failing to protect people is something of a sore spot for Jonas, whose wife is entering the final stages of multiple sclerosis and is the survivor of a recent suicide attempt.

I was a big fan of Bauer's first novel, Blacklands; this one isn't quite as good, but it's still an entertaining story. The characters are memorable -- DCI Marvel is a particularly good rendering of an officious asshole -- and you understand their motivations, even in their most blundering moments.

On a side note, though this isn't a direct sequel to Blacklands, it's set in the same village, and the principal character of that novel plays a small but important supporting role here. That necessarily involves a lot of spoilers for Blacklands, so if you're at all interested in the books, you should read that one first. If you should happen to pick up Darkside first, though, Bauer does an excellent job of working those Blacklands details into the narrative without getting too info-dumpy, so you won't have any trouble following those parts of the story at all.

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