Twenty-five years ago in the woods near the Hoh River in Seattle, three boys were kidnapped. One did not come home. A quarter of a decade later, a family of four is found brutally murdered, the words thirteen days scratched near their lifeless bodies. Homicide Detective Alice Madison ran away from home as a child, one breath away from committing an unforgivable act; as an adult, she found her peace chasing the very worst humanity has to offer. Madison believes these murders are linked. And she has thirteen days to prove it. To stop a psychopath, Madison must go back into the woods and confront the unsolved mystery of the Hoh River Boys. She must forget her training and follow her instincts to the terrifying end as enemies become allies and, in the silent forest, time is running out to save another life.
Very occasionally a book comes along that is so frustrating to review because it consistently lurches the reader from a thoroughly enjoyable plot, punctuated by avoidable and annoying flaws, and casts doubt on the fact that actually beneath its surface there could indeed lie a brilliant book. The Gift of Darkness is one such book, and aside from making this title a little tricky to review, I would love to give the author, and more importantly her editor, a metaphorical shake as this book, instead of just having moments of brilliance, could have been exceptionally so…
Linking between events happening 25 years apart, Giambanco has created a wonderfully atmospheric and visual novel, packed full of descriptive detail that under normal circumstances as a contemporary fiction book would work exceptionally well. However, constructed as a crime novel, this over reliance on the visual and descriptive does rather hamper the pace of the whole piece, thus making for an imbalance in holding the reader’s interest. I think it is fair to say that the last quarter of the book demonstrates all the tension and pace of a crime novel, but there is an inherent danger with this book that as the action takes so long to unfold, some reader’s interest may be lost. In the first third of the book there should have been a greater emphasis on, and reference, to the original events in the woods near the Hoh River in Seattle, which are so important to the events happening in real time. With a brutal murder happening at the beginning of the book, the co-relation between this and the past was lost in the depth of the dense description and slow plot movement that ensued from this point, hence leading to an incredibly lengthy build-up to a wonderfully controlled and tense closure to the plot, that is both exciting and nerve wracking. I found this a real shame, as to my layman’s opinion with some further editing, to what the author herself refers to in her acknowledgements as ‘a 142,966 word monster’, the quality of the narrative arc would have been substantially improved, and the solid original premise and clever linkage between the past and contemporary events heightened.
There is little to fault in terms of characterisation of the piece and I found rookie detective Alice Madison, a compelling character defined by her essential ordinariness. It was refreshing to have a female character who seemed untroubled by the usual cliched neuroses so prevalent in other female detectives, and although her character is by definition relatively ordinary, despite a largely unneeded and unnecessary blip in her formative years, the close attention to her professional life and her role in a male-dominated ensemble is perfectly realised. I did find it a shame that her working relationship with Detective Kevin Brown was curtailed by events later in the book, as the dynamics of her proving her worth as a detective to the worldly wise and older detective was an interesting facet to the plot which could have been exploited more. In an overall strong supporting cast, the other stand-out character for me was the wily John Cameron, identified early in the book as a possible suspect in the opening homicide, who has to navigate between eluding a killer himself, but also to overcome his natural distrust of the police to work with Alice in tracking said killer. Indeed, the interactions between him and the police generally was tense and intriguing throughout, with the reader never quite sure of his guilt or innocence as the plot progresses.
So overall with its superb visual quality, but at times an over attention to descriptive detail, supported by a fundamentally solid plot premise and strong characterisation, this was a little of a mixed bag for me. Losing 100 pages or so from this book, and a better placement of reference to the former kidnapping plot, would have definitely enhanced the reading experience more, but my fear remains that some readers may be lost along the way and that would be a great shame. Persevere and you’re in for a treat.
V. M. Giambanco was born in Italy. She started in films as an editor’s apprentice in a 35mm cutting room and since then has worked on many award-winning UK and US pictures, from small independent projects to large studio productions. Visit the author’s website: www.vmgiambanco.com Follow on Twitter @vm_giambanco. The Gift of Darkness is published by Quercus Books.
(With thanks to Cecilia at Midas PR for the advance reading copy)