by Belinda Bauer
4 stars - well written, wonderful characters
ALR Yellow - pony is hit by a car and dies, disturbing flashback to another incident, but animals not central to the story
The majority of the residents were in the garden room and Marvel understood why the moment they entered. It was hot. Saharan hot - even in the middle of winter. With its long windows and glass roof, the garden room was no more or less than a greenhouse for cultivating old folk. And it seemed to be working. At least two dozen old women with identical hair sat around the perimeter of the room, sunning themselves like lizards in wing chairs, sucking up the heat as if they'd outlived the capacity to make their own. Several of them wore hand-knitted cardigans and crocheted knee rugs just to be on the safe side. A large tin of cheap biscuits was being passed around the room and examined at each station as if it were the Holy Grail. Ahead of the tin was all craning white heads and expectant muttering, behind it was silence and crumbs.
Good stuff, right? In Darkside, Belinda Bauer returns to the village of Shipcott (featured in her previous novel). Time has passed, but the reader is reminded of the history of the small town.
Murder. A helpless woman is killed in her own bed and the one and only Shipcott police officer, Jonas Holly is on the spot. But murder requires a more studied team of specialists, so DCI Marvel and his crew are called in to investigate.
Marvel and Holly are at odds from the start. Marvel is horrified by his posting in such a rural area (cell phone signals are scarce - the horror) area and quickly dismisses Holly as a bumbling idiot.
Now here he was in this shithole village in the middle of a moor that didn't even have the niceties of fences or barns on it, with the miserable prospect of having to conduct a murder investigation surrounded by the vagaries of gorse, yokels, and pony shit instead of the sensible amenities of self-service petrol stations, meaningful road signs, and his beloved Kings Arms.
Then there is another murder, and some more.
But the murders are almost secondary to the story, more of a tool to move the reader through wonderful character descriptions and actions. As Marvel and Holly go about their investigations, each with his own method, they are also both troubled by their own demons. Demons of past follies and present frustrations that conspire to interfere with their objectivity regarding the case.
There is humor, horror, and everything in between. It's a damn fine book.
That said, I think I might excuse Ms. Bauer from my reading list. I realize I gave Black-Lands five stars and all of the elements which I praised for that book hold true with Darkside. This might sound funny given the types of gruesome, horrific books that I read, but Ms. Bauer's writing, her stories, and just too disturbing for me. I suppose that is part of her craft. We're all different and different things will strike too deeply for us, so don't pass Ms. Bauer by just because she's tapped into my own personal bug-a-boos.