Bill Kirton’s The Darkness charts the moral journey of a doctor who succumbs to fantasies of revenge. Dr. Andrew Davidson seeks justice for his brother, who commits suicide after his wife and daughter die in a car crash. He wants to punish not just the drunk driver who caused the accident, but other sociopaths who destroy lives and evade punishment. One by one, suspected criminals begin to disappear from the streets of Cairnburgh, Scotland.
Inspector Jack Carston, charged with investigating the disappearances, has mixed feelings. He isn’t sorry to have rapists, child molesters, and killers off the streets, but whoever has taken them is equally a criminal. He and his partner set about solving the cases in their quiet, methodical way.
The Darkness pits a compelling antihero against a reticent hero. Both are intelligent and likable. Davidson is kind to his patients, considerate of his coworkers, and sweet to his girlfriend. Carston loves his wife and enjoys his work. But the doctor eclipses the inspector through most of the story.
The doctor becomes the dramatic center as soon as he appears, largely because of the narrative point of view. Most of the narrative is third-person omniscient, but the doctor addresses the reader in first-person, which is direct and intimate and places him at the emotional core of the story. Everything happens around him.
Once the investigation begins to break, Carston’s role becomes more active and his character takes center stage. Still, the doctor remains the heart of the story. What will he do with the captives in his basement? Will his sanity survive the trauma of the crimes he’s committed?
Kirton writes elegant prose and creates memorable characters. Even secondary players stand out. I won’t forget the prostitute Rhona or her devoted boyfriend, Billy, for a long time. The Darkness might confound some readers who expect every mystery novel to follow a conventional pattern, but those who enjoy intelligent psychological suspense are in for a treat.
GO DARK, YOUNG MAN
The advice to beginner crime and thriller genre writers right now is, if you want to shift books, ‘go dark, young man’. Violence, murder, rape, bad language? Old hat. We want burnt bodies, extreme mutilation, anal rape, every third word in the dialogue a swear word. The villain is usually a monster who enjoys murdering and torturing, and the motivation is often sketchy ie the villain is a psychopath who was beaten as a child.
The premise is: ‘bad person does bad thing’. But, to me, ‘good person does bad thing’ is a lot more interesting. This is the premise of The Darkness by Bill Kirton, a thought-provoking twist on the police procedural genre.
The ‘villain’, Andrew Davidson, is an ordinary G.P. His brother’s family were killed in an accident by a drunken driver and the sensitive brother committed suicide. The villain evaded justice by hiring a clever lawyer and then Davidson notices that other local villains have escaped paying for wicked crimes in a similar manner. So, he decides to do something about it. This story is told by Davidson in the first person. The other lead character is D.C.I. Jack Carsten – his story is told in the third person – who notices that local villains are fortuitously disappearing from his manor. He can’t help but feel that they have deserved anything they get. The story of rape victim/prostitute Rhona Kirk – the men she is involved with also start to go missing – is expertly woven into the main narrative.
I know what you are thinking. Not Charles Bronson again. Death Wish 25? In any civilised country with a developed legal system clever lawyers will get the guilty off. In the USA it is summarised in the saying: ‘if you’re rich you walk, if you’re poor you fry’. But what to do about it, other than fight for political reform of the judicial system? Take matters into your own hands when the end result of self-righteous vigilantism is often worse than the original crime?
Bill Kirton has obviously thought about this and the twist to this novel will explode your preconceptions. The pacing is a little slow and I didn’t really get gripped by the novel until halfway through. But the interplay and battle of wits between the two main characters builds to a riveting conclusion. The book is well-written and the prose is clean and active, though there were several groups of typos in my ebook which looked like the result of ‘Microsoft Word going wonky’. Easy to fix. Similarly easy to sort out were the occasional ‘head-hopping’ changes of point of view within scenes. These are minor quibbles.
I found the book interesting and thought-provoking and a welcome change from the formulaic police procedural/crime thriller which tries to go dark but sometimes makes you slam the book shut in disgust. With this novel Bill Kirton has shown that ‘the darkness’ lies not down slippery steps into a dank and musty-smelling cellar but in the heart of each individual.