Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
Tags:Bronwyn Parry, romantic suspense
Published only in Australia at present, Ms Parry’s debut novel, As Darkness Falls knocks it out of the park—this is an excellent, excellent book. Considered a novel of romantic suspense, it works both as a strict mystery and as a romance, with a clean and uncluttered writing voice that manages to be poetic at times, and terrifying at others.
The story is set in the small town of Dungirri, in the Australian outback. Through her writing, Ms Parry conveys a realistic appreciation as well as a deep love for the country, making the reader almost able to see the landscape as well as crave spending time there—harsh or not.
Here’s the (better than many) back cover blurb:
On the edge of the outback, the landscape can hide many secrets.
Haunted by her failures, Detective Isabelle O’Connell is recalled to duty by DCI Alec Goddard to investigate the abduction of yet another child from her home town. They have only days to find the girl alive, with few clues, a town full of suspects, and a vast wilderness to search. It quickly becomes a game of cat and mouse, with Isabelle firmly in the killer’s sight.
For Isabelle, this case is already personal; for Alec, his best intentions to keep it purely professional soon dissolve. He couldn’t be more involved if the missing child were his own, and his anguish over Isabelle’s safety moves beyond the concern for a colleague.
Their mutual attraction leaves them both vulnerable to their private nightmares—nightmares the killer ruthlessly exploits.
The short prologue sets the stage for the novel: A missing child’s body has been found and the evidence shows that the police failed to find her alive by scant hours. The town’s outcast has borne the brunt of the locals’ suspicions from day one and, as passions are inflamed by rumours and speculation, Isabelle is the only one standing between him and an enraged mob.
The first chapter (available here) introduces both main characters during the scene where they meet each other. Almost a year after the events in the prologue, another girl goes missing and Isabelle’s worst fears are confirmed: the man she tried to protect was, indeed, innocent; a serial killer is still hunting around her hometown.
Alec Goddard has been sent by the Sydney State Crime Command to investigate the recent abduction and has decided to request Isabelle’s help. After all, it is well known that she has remained unwavering in her conviction that the killer hadn’t been found and it would seem she’s been proven right.
All but retired from the police force after the events of the previous year, Isabelle feels compelled to provide whatever help she may, even as she struggles to live with her memories, as well as with the terrible lack of trust—in herself and others—that is their legacy.
From that moment on, as we follow Alec and Isabelle’s efforts to find the missing girl alive, the many layers in the town’s dynamics are slowly revealed. In Mexico we have a saying: Pueblo chico, infierno grande. A rough translation would be, “A small town is a deep level of hell.”
It is easy, almost tempting, to believe that in a small town there are no secrets; after all, everyone seems to know everyone else’s story, motivations, feelings and goals. Yet behind the peaceful, pastoral, tranquil façade, there are many undercurrents of feelings and deeds, probably all the more damaging because of the level of deception required to keep anything hidden in the virtual fish bowl of small town life.
As Darkness Falls is wonderful; both a psychological thriller and a character study, it doesn’t read in any way as a debut novel. The writing is very polished, the plotting is tight, and the characterization is excellent. Isabelle and Alec are complex characters whose motivations are rooted in traumatic past experiences; hers more recent than his, but no less deeply ingrained into her psyche.
For those whose reading is exclusively on the no-romantic-elements-whatsoever side of the spectrum, As Darkness Falls may not work as well as it did for me, because the romance is intrinsic to the character development and, as such, to the plot itself.
The secondary characters, while not as well developed as Isabelle or Alec, each have a significant rôle to play in his or her own way. The Aboriginal constable, the old relative, the sensible café owner, the homegrown politician, the retired police superintendent, the old flame, the outsider. Scene by scene, Ms Parry reveals what makes them each tick, how and to what degree they each are involved in the puzzle, from prejudices and arrogance to simple envy. The Australian landscape, so utterly alien to me, both underscores and reflects the brutality of each increasingly gruesome discovery.
The action moves quickly, with mounting underlying urgency—for with each passing hour the chances of finding the missing girl alive diminish drastically. And with each hour, with each new lead pursued, with each new interview, facts come to light and events unfold—each leading, invariably, to a dead end. The reader becomes slowly aware, along with Alec and Isabelle, that the killer is manipulating them all, deriving enjoyment from their mounting frustration.
Saying anything more, beyond the fact that the romance between Isabelle and Alec reaches the required happy ending of romance novels, would quite likely spoil the mystery for the reader. Suffice it to say that I found the novel thoroughly engrossing—this was yet another one-sitting read for me.
As Darkness Falls gets 9 out 10.
This novel is available exclusively at present through Hachette Australia
Disclaimer: I first read about As Darkness Falls via the amazing Super Librarian Wendy. After reading the chapter available online, I fell prey to the mortal sins of envy, covet and greed. Happily, Ms Parry’s publicist at Hachette took pity on me, and thus I got my very own copy *hugs happily* Here is hoping readers outside Australia get a chance to read this wonderful book as well.