Getting between two brothers is never a good idea, just ask Cain and Abel. Since these two fellas the concept of driving a wedge between siblings turns up time and time again. Most of the time it's not God's willingness to accept sacrifice that draws them apart, but something far more common and far more base - sex. What is it with fictional women and their need to split up a family? When a mysterious woman enters town the best thing to do is stay clear of them, they are obviously a succubus sent to kill you or one of your brothers. According to books like 'Places in the Dark' one of you is going to end up dead, just try to make sure it's not you!
'Places in the Dark' follows the non linear storyline of a man trying to find the women who was last seen with his brother before he died. The mysterious woman entered their small town some months ago and seemed like a broken soul. Over the following weeks both brothers began to have feeling for her driving them towards a collision. One brother is a dreamer, the other a realist - who gets the girl and who ends up dead?
As a rule I like my crime fiction to be pretty straight forward. I would be the first to admit that a lot of what I read sometimes seems like the same story retold with different characters so 'Places' was somewhat of a change of direction for me. The first thing you notice with the book is the non-linear storyline that takes a little getting used to. The story is essentially split into three; what happened, what's happening and what will happen. Thomas H. Cook was surprisingly adept at keeping the three elements clear and after some initial struggles I fell into the story. The non-traditional narrative allows Cook to play with the characters and give some of the finale more impact than a straight book would have.
As mentioned earlier I did struggle with this book to begin with. Not only did I find the narrative a little cumbersome, but I also found the tone a little aloof. Cook seems to write in an almost fantastical style with a sense of the romance. The story is told through a soft lens and seems to push large ideas of romance and hatred. Personally, I do not read this type of work and often find it a little pretentious. That was the case here as the characters were all a little too flaky for my liking. It is credit to Cook's sense of storytelling then that I actually liked the book towards the end. The story itself is a strong one with a powerful ending that made it rise above its weak nature.
The length of the book gives it more of the feeling of a novella as you never get to know as much about the characters as you would like. Yes, we do get endless descriptions on how the brother's feel, but I felt that Cook's whimsical style prevented any real emotion coming through. The book deals with some very dark issues and the hazy nature of the writing did not sit well with me. I can imagine that a more romantic reader will like the poetic turn of phrase, for me it was cumbersome and unnecessary.
One area that does work is the comparison of the two brothers. Early on in the book the two brothers take on very different personalities. Traditionally you would think that the reader would support the dreamier of brothers, but Cook allows you to make a decision on your own who is the best. Do you prefer someone that lives for a dream, or someone who deals with the reality? Which of the two brothers is the real selfish one?
With an interesting dynamic between the two brothers and the femme fatalle there is enough in this book to make it interesting. After some initial misgivings I came to enjoy the non-linear narrative as it allowed Cook to intersperse clues throughout the book without giving anything away. However, although the split narrative was effective, it was undermined by the off-putting whimsical, almost fairy tale like, nature of Cook's writing. I can appreciate that to a certain audience Cook's romantic writing style would be very appealing, that audience is not me and it only acted as a detriment to what could have been a very good crime thriller.
Author: Thomas H Cook
Price: amazon uk - £0.01p second hand