Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: MURDER IN THE DARK

Title: Murder in the Dark
Author: Steve Demaree
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 264






Murder in the Dark by Steve Demaree takes a page out of the old Agatha Christie tradition. Twelve people from varying backgrounds are invited to spend a Survivor weekend in an isolated house, surviving whatever comes their way in exchange for a host of attractive prizes. Within a few hours, just after dinner, the lights are turned out, and they remain turned out for the duration of the weekend.

Since the windows are boarded up and nailed shut, there is no sunlight and the entire house is plunged in total darkness. The challenge is intensified when it becomes apparent that the Survivor Weekend requires them to survive quite literally. One of them is a murderer and is there to settle some score.


Beginning by giving us a brief introduction to the cast of characters, including the 12 invitees and the owner of the place and his butler, the author then leads us into the third person minds of a few characters, Pat McHenry, Mark Justice, Aaron Smedley, Dr Philip Bradley and Dan Larkins, besides Ridley Manchester, the owner, and Hawkins, the butler. Of these, Justice alone has multiple chapters devoted to his point of view.

The chapter from the third person viewpoint of the murderer was particularly annoying. In order not to give away the slightest clue about the identity of the killer, the author sought to avoid the use of pronouns completely, and ended up repeating the words, ‘the murderer,’ once too often. The last paragraph in this chapter contains 6-7 references to these words.

The chapter from the point of view of Lieutenant Norm Santangelo of the Robbery and Homicide division of the Lexington Police Department seems to spring out of nowhere, considering that Norm and his two colleagues are not mentioned in the cast of characters.

The writing sorely needed some tight editing. I found it convoluted, amateurish and tiresome. The writing sorely needed a good editor or at least an honest critique group.

Sample this sentence about the owner of the property: He merely planned to have guests fewer nights than those nights when he had no guests. I read this line so often and it still had me reeling, and there were many such gems littered throughout the book.

Now wrap your mind around this one: “Who knew when the next murder would take place, and take up some of Santangelo’s time. Well, one person knew when a series of murders were expected, but that person didn’t know if someone else planned to murder someone prior to that.” See what I mean?

A lot of the details seemed superfluous even at the outset. They didn’t serve any purpose, other than to achieve the targeted word count. The thing to do should have been to introduce us well to one character, and let them meet the others. The strategy of devoting one chapter each to multiple characters means that there is too much back story, and the Survivor Weekend does not begin until the 17th chapter.

The author does a good job with the conversation. The dialogue is real and lively, and the touch of humour is a relief. He also manages to build the atmosphere well. His fault is that he spells things out too much and repeats things a lot.

I have another grouse with the endless repetition of the cast of names and their professions. It comes at the beginning of the book, and then again when all the invited guests meet at dinner, they are asked to introduce themselves in detail. And if that’s not enough for us (the author must have a very low opinion of our short-term memory), the rest of the book reads Molly Pride, the librarian, did this, and Molly Pride, the librarian, did that. This reference to people by their professions is done repeatedly for all the characters, or at least those who manage to evade death.

Then there are some continuity issues. At the end of one chapter, we are told that the funeral director decides to stay in his room. And yet in the very next chapter, he is out in the basement.

At one point, Charlie pulls out a plastic bag out of his knapsack and throws a 100 or so marbles down, letting his pursuer fall. Where did the marbles come from? Why weren’t we readers told that he was carrying them? Writing mysteries requires the following of some rules. You cannot pull out random brand new objects out of the bag of Dora the Explorer.

How the murderer manages to go around committing multiple murders in pitch darkness is beyond me. It is also annoying when multiple chapters end with variations of the very same cliff-hanger – he didn’t expect to see what he saw.

Overall, the narrator’s voice is a little too smart-alecky and frivolous for comfort. Somehow I felt that the narrative tone succeeded in undoing whatever good effect the author had attained.





2 comments:

  1. Arghhhh! Some writers make me crazy, e.g. "would take place, and take up". If an author doesn't know how to properly use a comma, maybe he/she should go take a writing class. I'm impressed that you made it through the novel. Glad I have my 50-page rule.

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  2. Denise, you're so right. Some books really test one's patience. But I figure that any criticism could be helpful. It might help the author avoid those mistakes in his next work. As for the plodding through, I do that for an entirely selfish reason.
    I hope to publish my own writing someday. I hope others will plod through mine and give me constructive feedback too.

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