As Darkness Falls, by Bronwyn Parry

>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TITLE: As Darkness Falls
AUTHOR: Bronwyn Parry

PAGES: 358

SETTING: Contemporary rural Australia
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Followed by and loosely related to Dark Country

REASON FOR READING: Two of them: First Wendy's review about a year ago made it pop up on my radar. A more recent post in Kate Rothwell's blog reminded me of it, and since it's now out in the UK, I could get it!

Haunted by her failures, Detective Isabelle O’Connell is recalled to duty by DCI Alec Goddard to investigate the abduction of yet another child from her home town. They have only days to find the girl alive, with few clues, a town full of suspects, and a vast wilderness to search. It soon becomes a game of cat and mouse, with Bella firmly in the killer’s sights.

For Bella, this case is already personal; for Alec, his best intentions to keep it purely professional soon dissolve, and his anguish over Bella’s safety moves beyond the concern for a colleague.

Their mutual attraction leaves them both vulnerable to their private nightmares – nightmares the killer ruthlessly exploits.
Dark romantic suspense has been my genre of choice in the last few months. I've been in the mood for it, and quite a few intriguing examples by new authors have come to my attention. As Darkness Falls is yet another.

A serial killer is operating in the small outback town of Dungirri. A third girl has been abducted in only a few years, and since the previous two were found dead from a shot in the head only a few days after disappearing, it's urgent that the investigation gets going fast.

DCI Alec Goddard has been put in charge of the case and on the previous investigator's recommendation, his first move is to find Isabelle O'Connell and bring her out of semi-retirement. Bella, who grew up in Dungirri, had worked the previous case until things went horribly wrong. The townspeople got it into their heads that they knew who was responsible and formed a mob that attacked the man. Having gone to protect him, Bella was caught up in this mob and badly hurt, finally not succeeding in saving the accused man's life.

Although her physical injuries have healed, Bella doesn't feel anywhere near whole yet. She doesn't want to go to Dungirri again and face all these people, but she knows she's the little girl's only hope, so she does. And when it becomes clear that the killer is targetting her, the pressure only increases.

This is one dark, dark book. I don't mean that it's graphic or that particularly horrible things happen during the action -not at all, in fact. But the atmosphere is absolutely fantastic. You can feel the oppressive heat and the hopelessness growing in this little town that's quite clearly in decline.

Against this backdrop and the desperation to find a young girl before she's mercilessly executed, Parry develops two wonderful characters and a convincing romance.

Bella was especially amazing, and I thought the way her issues were explored was excellent. The events of the previous year almost destroyed her. Not just the trauma of being injured and the guilt of not being able to save an innocent man, but the horror of watching these horrors being perpetrated by people she knew well and considered good people. What was worst was the loss of innocence, in a way, the realisation that the world isn't separated so easily into good and bad people, black and white, but that people you wouldn't hesitate to place in the "good" camp, can have it in them to do something like this.

Bella feels she's finished, that there's no way she can join the living again, and being part of such an investigation should only add to the trauma. But it doesn't, mostly because it brings her into contact with Alec. Alec is, in a way, just as damaged as Bella. Events in his past have convinced him that he can never have a real personal life, a truly intimate relationship with a woman. He's never wanted one before, so he hasn't missed this at all. But when he meets Bella, he suddenly wants nothing more than to pursue something real with her.

The original attraction did strike me as coming out of nowhere, but as it developed, I started believing in it more and more. I could practically taste Alec's need and want for Bella and his disheartened feeling that he couldn't have what he so desperately wanted. I loved his protectiveness towards her, especially because he was fully aware of the fact that she was an extremely competent officer and could take care of herself. He knew this and respected her, felt that protectiveness in spite of it, and didn't let those feelings treat her any differently on the job. This was one romance I could believe in, even if it happens in a short timeframe and against very tense and stressful circumstances.

The suspense plot itself and the investigation were mostly very well done, but I'm afraid I was not convinced by the resolution and explanation. The breakthrough in the case comes out of nowhere, Bella just suddenly knows, after seeing something and making a link that provided a motive for someone that I didn't find particularly clear. I never got a clear sense in the end of why this person had decided to do these particular evil acts. Why kidnap little girls? Why shoot them in the head? Other than, that is, because this person was a complete and total psycho. Yes, that would cover motivation for just about anything, but it doesn't make the final revelation too satisfying. No "ahhh" moments here, unfortunately.

Still, this wasn't as bad, when I enjoyed everything else as much as I did. Not to mention, I loved the Australian setting. It was like nothing else I've read and felt very fresh (and I suspect it was so well done that it would have felt fresh even if I read books set in Australia every week). Can't wait to read Dark Country. Fortunately, the wonderful Malvina was kind enough to mail it to me from Australia, because otherwise, I would have had to wait until March until it came out here. Shameful! :)

MY GRADE: A solid B+.


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