On the outside looking in things seem idyllic in the small town of Braden, Pennsylvania. High school football is king, crime is low, people are friendly, and The Kitchen restaurant is the go to place for gossip and socializing.
Look a little deeper, however, and you’ll find secrets and lies festering. And violence.
Eleven years ago Carol, a well-liked young waitress, was brutally murdered. The murder occurred right around the time a man named Sean, husband of The Kitchen’s owner Risa, disappeared without a trace. Left to pick up the pieces of her life, Risa married Alan, a local politician who took her son, Kevin, under his wing as his own.
Sean was eventually declared dead legally, Kevin has grown into a confident young football star, and Alan is running for state office. Life is good. Until Sean shows up as jarringly out of the blue as he disappeared, claiming the man who was convicted of Carol’s murder is actually innocent. Sean knows this, he insists, because he was the one who killed her.
Now secrets long buried are being unearthed, a small town closes ranks, politics rears its ugly head, and Risa must figure out which life is real…the one she has now, or the one she thought was as dead and buried as Carol.
Darkness All Around, the second book from author Doug Magee following Never Wave Goodbye, is the definition of a claustrophobic small town murder mystery. The setting and tone really shine, as Magee perfectly captures the double-edged sword that is small town life, a place where everyone knowing everyone can be either a blessing or a curse depending upon the business at hand. Magee takes great care to develop the characters, and there is a level of emotional exploration in Darkness All Around that is often missing in a murder mystery, where the people can sometimes get lost in the plot.
Which isn’t to say Darkness All Around skimps on plot. Far from it. Magee uses Sean’s reappearance and his recovery from a head injury to great effect, as neither Risa nor the reader is quite sure if Sean is actually remembering the past or having false memories as a result of the head trauma he suffered. And far from being eager to jump on righting a possible injustice, neither the law nor the District Attorney seem anxious to look into Sean’s claims of guilt, while Alan is none too pleased to have the attention Risa’s ex-husband is stirring up casting a shadow on his campaign.
And even though the ending isn’t really an “A-ha!” moment – frequent readers of the genre will most likely guess what’s what before things officially wrap up – Magee has nevertheless put together a truly atmospheric suspense novel that’s as enjoyable for the small town machinations as it is the mystery.
Darkness All Around is available from Touchstone (ISBN: 978-1439154045).
Darkness All Around by Doug Magee
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