I picked up Belinda Bauer’s second book, Darkside, with 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.