It is the first day of the blog tour for The Dark Room by Sam Blake, which is out today! I had fun reading this and trying to deduce its mystery, so thank you very much to Anne Cater for my place on the tour and to Corvus Books for sending me a lovely physical copy.
Published: 7th January 2021
Trigger warnings: Drug references, allusions to rape, suicide
Hare’s Landing, West Cork. A house full of mystery…
Rachel Lambert leaves London afraid for her personal safety and determined to uncover the truth behind the sudden death of a homeless man with links to a country house hotel called Hare’s Landing.
New York-based crime reporter Caroline Kelly’s career is threatened by a lawsuit and she needs some thinking space away from her job. But almost as soon as she arrives, Hare’s Landing begins to reveal its own stories – a 30-year-old missing person’s case and the mysterious death of the hotel’s former owner.
As Rachel and Caroline join forces, it becomes clear that their investigations are intertwined – and that there is nothing more dangerous than the truth…
This book contains a complex and fascinating mystery that is laden with plot strands and sinister goings-on. A creepy rural setting and a gradual increase in suspense help to create a menacing atmosphere throughout, while two likeable main characters come together to great effect as they connect the dots of an intelligently spun case that transcends past and present.
It is a highly plot-driven story, yet engagingly written and almost always possessing a considerable amount of intrigue. There is rarely a time where you can predict what will happen next and the answers are unclear until very late on, so it made for an absorbing read. However, it does become a little convoluted in places, particularly during a rushed ending that left one or two questions unanswered.
Rachel is a location scout for a film production company, where her boyfriend Hunter is in the process of making a documentary about homeless people. On the same morning, Hunter is knocked off his bicycle and all his cameras are stolen from the houseboat where he lives. A short time later one of his subjects, Alfie, is found dead. Not much is known about Alfie, but he had links to a hotel in Ireland called Hare’s Landing.
The hotel is an old house that has recently been renovated, and Caroline has just arrived as she seeks some time away from her job as a crime reporter in New York. She soon discovers that the place has a dark past which includes the death of its former owner and the unsolved disappearances of two teenagers, while the nearby village is full of suspicion and gossip.
Fearing for her own safety, Rachel comes to Hare’s Landing in an attempt to find out more about Alfie and uncover the truth behind his death. Along with Caroline and her dog Jasper, she learns that all of the incidents are linked and that there is someone who will stop at nothing to make sure that their secrets remain intact.
A lot happens in the opening chapters and the storylines involving Rachel and Caroline seem to be taking completely different paths, so it was interesting at that stage to see how they would play out and where they would intersect. This happened much earlier than I expected, but from there the sense of mystery is ever present and I liked how the two women joined forces and gave it more of an interactive feel.
The various plot strands are balanced really well for the most part, but there was perhaps one too many and keeping track of them all was sometimes a challenge. It definitely gathers pace towards the end as more serious events start to happen and while some things were satisfactorily resolved, others seemed to lack much of an explanation.
Told entirely in the third person past tense, the chapters alternate between Rachel and Caroline until the former arrives in Ireland, at which point their narratives are combined. They were two strong female protagonists who are easy to invest in and drive the story very well, almost acting as a surrogate for the reader as they try to find out about Alfie and what happened at Hare’s Landing thirty years ago.
Although there is more emphasis on the plot than the characters, they were still given a lot of depth. I liked Rachel for her compassion and good nature, and also for having a very clever dog. Jasper brings so much to this story and it was fantastic to see an animal have such an important role rather than acting as a token pet, so the author deserves plenty of credit for that.
Caroline is also likeable and has some similar qualities to Rachel, but is very inquisitive and more proactive, with her experience as a journalist giving her some extra instinct. The sub-plot about the lawsuit she is facing in New York and her relationship with her boss sadly does not end up being especially relevant, but it does help to give her more background, which is not such a bad thing.
The secondary characters are all developed strongly. Hunter’s determination to help Alfie came across well, as did Ava’s mistrust of others. Mrs Travers gave a very unwelcoming vibe that makes it seem like she is hiding something, while Imogen and Bronagh were so kind that I had no problem connecting with them. As for Malachi, him knowing Rachel was just a bit too much of a coincidence.
Hare’s Landing and the surrounding area made for an often eerie setting that had several interesting possibilities. I loved discovering more about the house and its history, and the sense of oncoming danger was tangible during the scenes that took place at night. The fact that there was barely any mobile phone reception to be found made it feel even more isolated.
The main issue I had was a lack of clarity in terms of the mystery and what actually happened, and this is most evident at the end. There was no problem with the outcome of the case itself, but some things were left unresolved or not fully explained. It just seemed like a race to get to the end rather than providing more of a natural conclusion to what had been a very good story.
Overall, this was a book that delivered on numerous aspects such as setting, characters, and quality of writing. It has a steady pace and the plot is always exciting enough to keep you turning the pages, even if the ending leaves a little to be desired. It is a fun and fulfilling read that would be ideal for anyone who loves a good mystery.
Sam Blake (a pseudonym for Vanessa O’Laughlin) is originally from St. Albans in the United Kingdom, but has lived in Ireland for a number of years. Her first novel was released in 2016, entitled Little Bones, the first in a trilogy featuring DI Cathy Connolly.
Since then she has focused less on police procedurals and more on mysteries featuring strong female characters. Keep Your Eyes On Me was published in 2020, while two further books are in the pipeline.
A very well written mystery with lots going on and a complex puzzle to untangle. The resolution could have been better, but most other things were spot on.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
*I received a free advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Check out all the other reviews on the blog tour!