Review: Belinda Bauer – Darkside

I picked up Belinda Bauer’s second book, Darksidewith high expectations. The setting of the thriller is the wonderfully atmospheric Exmoor and tells the tale of a local policeman whose career is threatened when a series of murders remain inexplicably impossible to solve. The central character is Jonas Holly, a village police constable whose career aspirations have been put on hold following his wife’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Now settled in Shipcott, the village of his childhood, his position of local law enforcer is undermined by the caustic Chief Inspector Marvel who is called in from Taunton to find the killer. Holly’s contamination of the first murder and his constant undermining by the Chief Inspector creates stresses that spill over into his home life. As the killer begins to taunt his inability to solve the case, Jonas Holly embarks on a mission to bring the murderer justice.

I always admire authors who are able to create the perfect amount of tension in their stories and Belinda Bauer is one such writer.  She provides beautiful descriptions of the Somerset landscape but at the same time the narrative cracks on at a pace, leaving the reader wanting more.  Her characterisation is excellent, particularly the nasty DI John Marvel who is on the right side of caricature. The story, chronicling the murders of people who could be considered a ‘drain’ on society was also quite moving and I liked the parallels to Jonas’ own situation. In addition, the chronicling of Lucy Holly’s MS was very well written and obviously thoroughly researched. The relationship between Holly and his wife was also particularly convincing.

It could have been an excellent book. But the major problem for me was the ending. I didn’t like it and I didn’t believe it. Without giving any spoilers, I’m all for writers surprising the reader. But credibility is key and I’m afraid I just didn’t believe in the killer’s unmasking, nor in the motive behind it. This is a real shame, and I ended-up feeling duped which is never a good feeling and is hardly likely to make me want to read the writer’s next book. I suppose the quality of the writing getting there was worth it, but the ending in my opinion changed the book from a classic detective novel to a psychological thriller. I would have preferred one or the other.

For other (largely positive) reviews see Eurocrime , Reactions to Reading and Savidge Reads.

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14 thoughts on “Review: Belinda Bauer – Darkside

  1. Sarah – I’m so sorry to hear that you were disappointed in Darkside. You’re quite right about Bauer’s great writing style and ability to build tension. It’s a shame that this one got you, so to speak, in the end. I’d been looking forward to reading this one after thinking what a terrific read Blacklands was. Perhaps I’ll wait…

  2. Interesting… I have this book on my TBR pile at the side of my bed. Did you feel cheated because of the change from detective to psychological? Or was it more than that? or can you not say too much without giving it away?

  3. Thanks Maxine. On reflection I will probably keep on reading the author. As long as this isn’t a recurring theme.

    Michael – do read the book and let me know your thoughts, I really can’t tell you any more without giving the game away. It’s not so much the murderer who comes from a credible list of suspects. It’s the motive I have a problem with and the change in tone of the book. Let me know what you think!

  4. I’m Dutch,and I read the translation of Blackside. I’m almost happy to discover there are more readers who think exactly the same of this highly acclaimed work. I felt duped, just like you and Sue and I’m kind of angry, but it is always good to know you’re not the only one…

    • Thanks Gijsje for stopping by and commenting. It is a shame when you feel duped at the end of a book but I wouldn’t stop reading the writer. I believe the first book is excellent.

      • I did read the first book, but young Steven made a mistake which so clever a boy wouldn’t ever make. So the whole book lost credibility, that is, for me.
        On the whole I liked Blackside a lot more,in fact I was thrilled! Belinda Bauer is a very fine author. But that’s why my disappointment at the end was enormously. However, I certainly will read her next novel.
        (Sorry for my English)

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