Hardback: 368 pages
Publication Date: 06/01/2011
After the critical and commercial success of Belinda Bauer’s debut novel, Blacklands, her next book was always going to have a lot to live up to. But, whilst Darkside isn’t quite as brilliant as Blacklands [in my opinion at least], it is nevertheless an extremely good piece of crime fiction that proves Bauer is no one-hit wonder.
Once again set in the small, tight-knit Exmoor village of Shipcott [Blacklands was also located there], the novel finds a killer murdering elderly and infirm members of the community. Young local policeman Jonas Holly finds himself out-of-his-depth and completely sidelined from the investigation when a team of city detectives are brought in to handle the case [led by the abusive and bullying DCI Marvel – a man whose name is definitely a misnomer!]. And, as people continue to die and the brutal winter continues to close in, Jonas feels increasingly useless and becomes desperate to prove his worth – to the villagers, to his wife, to Marvel, but most of all … to himself.
What really stands out about this book is Bauer’s ability to convincingly portray the tangled web of relationships that fill Shipcott – and for me, it was really the true focus of the novel. She brilliantly, and believably, brings to life the often-intrusive nature of living in a small community [I’m a London boy, so my knowledge of the countryside is a bit suspect!], where everybody knows one another’s business and where everyone knew each of the victims and realises that the murderer could be someone they have known for years and call their friend. It creates an emotive and charged atmosphere throughout the novel, that really adds to the reader’s experience.
But Bauer is also incredibly good at focusing on more intimate, one-on-one relationships, in particular the one between Jonas and his wife, Lucy. She is suffering from the debilitating effects of MS and he gave up the chance to further his career in the police force and took the position in Shipcott to look after her. And their daily battle with her physical decline is the heart-rendingly emotional centre of the novel. But at no stage does the author fall into the trap of over-sentimentalising Lucy or try to turn her into a martyr.
For me, the only thing that stopped this from being an absolutely brilliant novel [and up there with Blacklands] was the conclusion. Just something about the revelation of the killer’s identity didn’t really fit with the rest of the novel – and felt slightly too outlandish for my liking. However, this was only a slight stumble and Darkside is still a really well written and incredibly readable psychological crime novel.