I think at some point I will have to give crime and my thoughts on it its own post because I do find it interesting that there are some crime books that I love and other ones I absolutely loathe. ‘Darkside’ by Belinda Bauer falls straight into the ‘love’ category, though I do fear when I tell you its about the murder of a defenceless old lady you might start to judge me wrongly. Whilst I like a good linear ‘whodunit’ I am also a fan of crime novels where, yes there is murder going on and you want to find out who did it, there is also so much more to meet the eye which was just the case in Belinda Bauer’s debut novel ‘Blacklands’ which I enjoyed just as much but for rather different reasons.
When Margaret Priddy dies as ‘Darkside’ opens, everyone is in shock. Not just that the small village of Shipcott in Exmoor has been hit by a murder but the fact that anyone would want to do that to a woman who was bedridden with an illness which made her unable to move or speak. This is clearly a big case and sadly means that local policeman Jonas Holly is usurped when the big boys arrive on the scene, the head of whom is the rather odious, but brilliant to read, DCI Marvel. Soon enough the murders start to rise and someone begins taunting Jonas by leaving notes such as ‘call yourself a policeman?’ on his car and things start to get more and more personal.
I really, really enjoyed this novel. I found myself feeling like I was part of the community, which is set in the same place as ‘Blacklands’ was and even features some of the characters from that novel, and I wonder if that is because Bauer builds a village so full of real characters that it appeals to the side of my personality that is a curtain twitcher. Whilst there is a tale of mystery and murder at the heart of what is a dark and brooding story, I do think Exmoor as a setting is a brilliant choice – especially in a bleak mid-winter – and helps with Bauer’s atmospheric descriptions, it is also a story about people and what goes on behind closed doors.
The characters are great, being both realistic and highly readable. From the victims themselves, who you get to know in many ways even if they are only in the book for a few pages, to the two main protagonists everyone is written fully and could be the people you live next door to. Jonas Holly’s back story, with his MS suffering wife Lucy, adds a certain dimension to the book and only makes you loathe the uncaring, rather bigoted (when I say rather its quite blatant) Marvel even more – though I have to say Marvel does end up stealing every scene he’s in and you find yourself laughing at him and the utter bile that comes out of his mouth. I ended up loathing him but utterly loving reading him at the same time.
In fact humour is a real theme in this book, for example there is an ongoing set of jokes between writer and reader involving the local milkman and his wares, yet it’s always slightly bittersweet. “His getaway was slow and electric, but Jonas still felt as if he’d been left eating the milkman’s dust.” You might be laughing out loud at something strange a villager does and then suddenly you realise why they might be doing it and everything looks a little darker.
“Jonas got an anonymous call from Linda Cobb to say Yvonne Marsh was on the swings in her knickers. He knew Linda’s voice and she knew that he knew it, but anonymity was hard to come by in a village as small as Shipcott, and he liked to respect it wherever possible. Nobody liked to be a tattle-tale.”
What I really admire in Bauer’s book, which could have been the tricky second novel, is that the book is an incredibly gripping and complete page turner without the need for a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter which I found really refreshing. It’s the mystery, the characters and most of all the writing and its voice that keep you reading along. Oh and if you guess the ending then you are a genius, I had a slight jaw drop moment. ‘Darkside’ is a corking and thrilling novel which is as much about the community as the crimes committed in it. Highly recommended, I can’t wait for Bauer’s next novel. 9/10
So far as 2011 goes I think ‘Darkside’ could be racing ahead as one of my favourite books of the year. Whilst some may be snobby about the genre it’s in I would say two things. Firstly crime novels like this have a bit of everything and show that books can be well written and utterly page turning (I have used that cliché too much today, I apologise, sometimes only the cliché’s will do) and reflect our lives today. Secondly reading should be fun, and this book was exactly that, don’t you agree?