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CWA Gold Dagger Winner Bauer is certainly carving out her niche in the realm of dark themes and psychology within the crime genre. Could she be an early contender for taking the mantle of ‘Queen of Psychological Crime’ from the esteemed Minette Walters?
Darkside is what is it says on the label and it opens with a harrowing scene, in effect the second chapter, where one of society’s most vulnerable is murdered. Following an accident with a horse, the elderly Margaret Priddy was left paralysed from the neck down. For what remains of her life, she lies immobile in bed, unable to communicate with any efficacy at all, and her body is the subject of 24/7 nursing care at home (for as long as the family funds will last). One day she wakes to a strong light and believes her time is up, that she is dying. But the light is a torch and the sensation of pressing that follows its appearance alerts her that she is actually having the life taken from her.
In the closed Exmoor village of Shipcott, first encountered in Blacklands, the local bobby Jonas Holly is shocked by the death of Priddy. Knowing such a case is beyond his remit, Holly calls in the top guns and we observe the arrival of DCI Marvel from Taunton: a man who proves to be an extreme irritant to Holly’s well meaning efforts, rendering them hapless at every opportunity and sucking away at Holly’s self esteem.
Soon, it becomes apparent that someone aims to remove from Shipcott all of its most vulnerable and dependent: the elderly and the ailing, or a combination of the both. Within this, Holly’s wife Lucy, a housebound sufferer of MS, seems a prime target.
Darkside, with the staccato nature of its prose will quickly scoop up any reader into the journey of the story and not let go. It is vibrancy with vibrato. Bauer’s characters are portrayed from under the skin, with an electric feel of dependable reliance; but for some more than others. Her ability to draw you into the depths of darkness while adding humour is commendable. As with Blacklands, Bauer’s massive strength lies in characterisation.
However, even though I feel this second novel, Darkside is superior to Blacklands, again the denouement suffers due to plotting. In Darkside it is too abrupt and would have benefited from a more subtle build and with more exploration of certain characters’ backstories. Bauer remains one to watch.
More on the author here.