The Darkest Hour Paperback – 3 Jul 2009
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'A finely paced and engrossing second novel from this talented Australian writer.' -- Guardian
'races along at a tearing pace'
-- Sunday Times
'races along at a tearing pace'
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A big problem is that we don't really meet the bad guy; he lurks in the background. This tactic can work but it needs a stronger writer. The bad guy is also a complete psycho, which leaves him short on motive -- always a mistake.
I'd never read an Australian detective novel before and was hoping for a little more sense of place, a little more of a feeling that this couldn't just have been set anywhere in Britain or America.
I saw this book recommended by a newspaper reviewer and bought a copy but found it disappointing.
The book opens with Lauren Yates, a Sydney paramedic, almost running over an injured young man running across the road late at night. Jumping out of her ambulance to help, the young man and his friend hastily drive away. Lauren investigates the alley where the men had run from, and encounters a horrific crime in progress. What's more, she knows the perpetrator, who is able to threaten her sufficiently to make her stay silent about what she's seen.
Six months later, Lauren and her partner Joe are called to the scene of another crime, this time a street where a man, James Kennedy, has been stabbed. While the ambulance is racing to the hospital, Kennedy is able to say the name of the man who attacked him: the same man who previously threatened Lauren. Lauren therefore has a dilemma - she has previously lied in court at the inquest of the man murdered in the alley in denying that she saw the attack, yet she can't withhold the name of Kennedy's assailant from the police because Joe, her colleague, also heard it.
Lauren is one of the two main protagonists in this novel; the other is Ella Marconi, a police detective who is being investigated after events in the previous book by this author (Frantic). Ella is determined to prove herself so that she gets to stay in homicide, hence when she pulls the James Kennedy investigation she is determined to solve it. She's stymied, however, when Lauren withdraws her evidence about the perpetrator.
I was in two minds about this book up to this point. I wasn't impressed by the coincidence of Lauren being involved in two cases involving the same perpetrator, or with her dilemma of silence. Lauren is a competent and committed paramedic who has evidently shown plenty of resilience at earlier stages of her life. I didn't find her vacillation very interesting to read about.
But luckily it doesn't last long, as Lauren realises that she and her family can't live with a threat hanging over them. After she comes clean with Ella and the police force, the book shifts a gear into overdrive, and continues at a breathtaking pace until the end. Katherine Howell has a great way of keeping up the action and tension, while also providing plenty of authentic details about the police investigation and the paramedics' life of constant call-outs, tension and bravery as they repeatedly help the victims of accidents, attacks, and self-destruction.
The police investigation is compelling, with several different divisions coordinating various lines of enquiry as it becomes clearer that certain events must be connected. The question is, how? I really enjoyed the way in which witnesses were interviewed, phone records checked, and evidence gradually put together to build up a complete picture. The author is particularly good at interspersing chapters from the point of view of some of the less savoury characters without giving away to the reader how everything is related. And she presents really authentic characters in Lauren and Ella by showing the reader glimpses of their home lives, their families and how they deal with everyday and not-so-everyday domestic tensions.
Although this is the second novel by Katherine Howell, you don't have to have read the first to enjoy it (I haven't). It seems that the character of Lauren is new to The Darkest Hour, and one learns enough of Ella's back-story not to feel one is missing out by not knowing all the events described in Frantic.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Paramedic Lauren Yates finds herself alone in an alley helping a man that she knows all too well, Miles Werner. A man she knows to be angry, hateful, deceitful, and most of all, dangerous. All the while, another man lays dead in the same alley. When she begins to help Miles he threatens her life, her sister's life and the life of her niece, Mile's own daughter.
Terrified of Werner's threats, she lies to the police, to her sister and to her partner and sets into motion a trail that leads to even more victims. She becomes desperate and has no idea how she will ever get out of this mess alive.
Lauren is a paramedic who one dark night out working on her own came across a murder victim in a back alley. Hiding in the shadows she sees a man she recognises as her sister's ex-husband, Thomas Werner, who they believed had returned to his home in Austria. He threatens Lauren that if she says he a word about him to police, he will harm her sister and her little girl. Some months later when she is transporting a fatally stabbed victim to hospital, she and her colleague Joe hear him clearly say that he was stabbed by Thomas Werner. Thomas is heavily embroiled in crime and tries to silence Lauren however detective Ella Marconi is on the case and there is no way Lauren can suppress Thomas' involvement this time.
A story with several different threads that all come together in a thrilling ending.