Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 August 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
My thanks to the publisher and Jenny Platt for an advance copy for review
In the most inhospitable environment – cut off from the rest of the world – there’s a killer on the loose.
A&E doctor Kate North has been knocked out of her orbit by a personal tragedy. So when she’s offered the opportunity to be an emergency replacement at the UN research station in Antarctica, she jumps at the chance. The previous doctor, Jean-Luc, died in a tragic accident while out on the ice.
The move seems an ideal solution for Kate: no one knows about her past; no one is checking up on her. But as total darkness descends for the winter, she begins to suspect that Jean-Luc’s death wasn’t accidental at all.
And the more questions she asks, the more dangerous it becomes . . .
Who doesn’t love a locked room mystery? And though there’s the vast expanse of the dark and icy Antarctic to look out on, the fact that there’s nowhere to go, it’s pitch black for most of the book and the chilling, bone piercing ice is a killing machine writ large makes this an easy qualifier for that designation.
Emma Haughton paints a deeply atmospheric and fascinating picture of what it is like to be in a UN research station in the midst of Antarctica with 12 other people for company. The total isolation; the danger that surrounds you, the yearning for fresh fruit and vegetables and the poor unstable connections with the outside world all play a part in shaking the psyches of those who have chosen to work and study on the base.
Dr Kate North is a late addition to the Antarctic crew. She’s replacing Jean-Luc Bernas, the doctor who dies in a tragic accident in one of the Antarctic’s dangerous crevasses. Kate has been looking for an opportunity to get away from it all after a personal tragedy which has left her more than a bit broken.
Concealing that from her interviewing panel, Kate, an experienced A&E doctor makes a leap that may not be wise, but takes her far away from everything that reminds her of her recent tragedy.
Kate becomes the 13th team member and from the outset it seems that it’s not going to be a lucky move for her. The station manager is not welcoming and the rest of the team have clearly not bonded with each other in any meaningful way. Kate soon discovers that there are doubts over whether her predecessor’s death really was an accident and the team members are tense, irritable and full of suspicion. Kate, who has her own issues, feels the hostility acutely and as she endeavours to find out what’s really gone on, she makes some deeply flawed decisions and manages to put pretty much everyone’s backs up.
Kate is not subtle, and her lack of subtlety is enhanced by her reliance on addictive pain killers, something she failed to disclose to her interviewing panel. She asks pointed questions that only serve to rile up her colleagues and her emotional state is all over the place, leading the reader to wonder whether anything she discovers can be considered reliable.
All her poking and prying seems to dislodge something in the station and soon it becomes clear that there is a killer in their midst who is not going to stop.
Haughton ekes out the mystery by playing Kate’s backstory out slowly, but it is the chilling and atmospheric setting that are the real winners in this locked room mystery. The team are not as well fleshed out as I would have liked and Kate’s own flaws prevent her from being a protagonist you really warm to.
Verdict: This book will give you shivers. The Dark has a terrific sense of place. The extremely spine-tinglingly creepy atmosphere and the fabulously rich and descriptive setting make this a place of dark intentions and claustrophobic secrets. The sense of isolation; of being in the dark all alone knowing that if you stay any longer the cold will kill you, is a feeling that stays with you. Haughton’s writing achieves an excellent sense of fear and creepiness and there are some very dramatic moments that heighten the tension. The mystery/detection element is less strong, but this remains a decent and interesting mystery strongly heightened by the excellent setting.
Bookshop.org Waterstones Hive Stores
Emma Haughton grew up in Sussex, studied English at Oxford, and worked as a freelance journalist for
a number of national newspapers, including the Times Travel section. She has written several non-fiction
books for schools, as well as three young adult thrillers. The Dark is her first crime novel.