Millar, Sam - 'The Dark Place'
Sam Millar, an Irish author, has written several short stories and four previous novels. THE DARK PLACE is a 'Karl Kane' novel, and features Karl, a private detective/writer who appeared in an earlier novel BLOODSTORM. Karl is divorced, living with his girlfriend Naomi, and has a daughter Katie, who is away at University, but just transferring back to Belfast, where the book is set. His case in this novel is to find a young girl, who has disappeared from a hostel for runaways. As the first chapter describes a young girl, imprisoned in a cold dark place, by an unknown man, it's pretty clear that this is likely to be the girl Karl is searching for. The body of a girl soon turns up, and although she turns out not to be the one Karl is searching for, the post-mortem reveals that she had put on a great deal of weight very quickly, just before her death, and her kidneys and liver removed, probably to be eaten by her murderer. This is the most interesting (though gruesome) idea in the book, but unfortunately, isn't really taken much further. Although Karl does eventually connect this to the way that geese are fattened up to make foie gras, the idea could have been developed much more, perhaps in providing more background and motivation for the murderer for example.
Karl starts trying to find the missing girl by following her trail from the hostel to a squat where she was last seen. Bizarrely, he even takes some sort of drugs with a woman at the squat to try to find out where the girl went next. But his detective tools are barely required because a cross-dressing friend of his called Ivana tells Karl she knows who the perpetrator might be, and then almost immediately is killed, presumably to silence her. Although how the murder would know that Ivana has identified him to Karl is unclear. Of course, it is one thing suspecting who it might be and another proving it, but when Karl's own daughter goes missing, he then has his own personal motive to find the murderer.
While there are some interesting ideas in the book, I found Karl's character a bit one dimensional, and his detective skills unconventional and somewhat unbelievable. I found it difficult to understand why the police weren't more involved, and how what turns out to be quite a long running series of murders had not been picked up and investigated before. The story was fairly predictable, and there just wasn't enough depth to the novel, either to provide more insight into the motives and methods of the murderer, or into how Karl deals with the situation, and uses his detective ability to find him. A serial murderer should be smart and clever to evade detection, and a detective should need all his wits to find him, but that just doesn't happen here, rather, a series of random, but predictable occurrences, and a rather stupid detective gets a suddenly less than clever villain.
Michelle Peckham, England
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