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A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong

Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin

This is a bizarre title for a thriller, but once you dive into the plot you'll understand why. Book Two in the Casey Duncan series, this Rockton Thriller, sees the detective and deputy Will Anders succumb to darkness on page two. Only it's not the usual darkness, it's "a cyclone of driving snow and roaring wind" that hails them on their snowmobiles and nearly destroys them.

Weather—blizzards, snow, and freezing cold temperatures—is just one of the hazards in and around Rockton. A Yukon town of two hundred residents, 75% male, and peopled by criminals and victims (some of whom are interchangeable), Rockton is a place people come to disappear. Other hazards manifest outside the town limits: grizzlies, cougars, ex-Rockton hostiles (more dangerous than the animals), and the gentler settlers who crave freedom and independence. Sheriff Eric Dalton and his brother Jacob grew up as settlers and understand the subtleties of this life on the land.

Another "darkness absolute" is a black hole in Bear Skull Mountain where Nicole Chavez has been held prisoner for over a year. Is it disturbing? Yes. The encounters in the cave are so well illustrated, I have moments where I find it hard to keep reading. And there is a new key character introduced, a French butcher ex-psychiatrist named Mathias, who is rumoured to be able to make his craziest patients self-mutilate only those parts that fit the crime. Every time he speaks I hear Anthony Hopkins crooning to Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs. This is that kind of book.

A third "darkness absolute" is the black insanity that drives a man to kidnap three women, hold them prisoner until they succumb, and then dump their bodies in the bottom of a cave. What kind of man does that? What childhood trauma created this monster? And can they find him and stop him before he does it again?

But, it's not all darkness. There are flashes of light as we are privy to the developing romantic relationship between Sheriff Eric Dalton and Detective Casey Duncan--he surprises her with a bouncing Newfie pup and she moves in (so it’s easier for the pup). Of course it is.

Kelley Armstrong does not let us down. As before, her writing is clean and direct, her dialogue true, her underpainting simple, yet effective. A need to know keeps us turning pages. A perpetrator who kidnaps women and stashes them in caves for his own sexual amusement? We wonder when he's coming for Casey. Because we know he is. He must. And Casey's not the kind of woman to let her boyfriend rescue her. She'll manage on her own. This is her show. Narrated by her, we are privy to Casey’s intelligent hashing out of the crime; the possibilities of who could have done what, when, where, why, and how. And we'll stay with her until the end to know she's safe, and Rockton’s safe, no matter how disturbing things get.

An Absolute Darkness is published by St Martin's Minotaur.

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