Home Before Dark

Saturday, August 8, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Books, Reviews

I’m quite into crime/thrillers at the moment, and considering my general geekiness, I can’t deny that part of the thing which attracted me to this book was the use of the word ‘website’ in this blurb:

A year later, frustrated with the police enquiry, Ed vows to find Sophie’s killer. His quest leads to a mysterious website and its owner, Ward, a charming, brilliant psychopathHome Before Dark blurb

Home Before Dark (amazon)

So, that’s Home Before Dark by Charles Maclean. It’s a thriller.

Basically, the gist is that Ed’s daughter was murdered a year before in Florence, and there didn’t seem to be any leads. Ed heads across to Florence after receiving a phone call from on of the friends of his daughter who might have a clue. Only by the time he gets there, she is reluctant to talk to him and seems somewhat scared.

Ward is quite an interesting character: very poetic in his use of words — he uses the phrase “words with an iron shape” which I thought particularly memorable and indeed does turn out to be notable in the story for a very specific reason. Ward’s backstory was perhaps the weakest element in the novel — I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was cliched (Ward was certainly at least fairly original) but it felt familiar, but the rest of the characters were very human.

Ed has his personal distractions which are taking him further away from his wife, another one of the characters has a gambling problem (this I felt was again a little weak — why does everyone you ever encounter in a book with a gambling problem always, at the specific time you encounter them, owe a large sum of money to someone dangerous? How come you never encounter them when their luck’s in? It also seemed like a conveniently easy way of providing motivation for the character).

Those gripes aside though, I did enjoy reading the book. What Maclean does particularly well is to build tension. There’s a passage where a character called Sam is lost in Venice, feeling that she is being followed — or possibly stalked — by the psychopath. What works well here is the increased mounting tensions as we develop our suspicions as to what is going on, and who it is that she is communicating with, and what exactly is in store for her…

There are also some twists in the plot. I was at one stage being lead down a path where I had my suspicions about something and while it’s always nice to be right, in this case I was pleased I was wrong, because the writer had led me into a trap of believing he was writing a twist which I’d encountered before, only to neatly sidestep and reveal it more-or-less as a bluff.

The psychopath uses the internet and his website very well, and in that way it reminded me of Jeffery Deaver’s The Blue Nowhere which I would have to acknowledge is superior to this, but while it touches upon many of the same ideas it is very much a different story and a different treatment of these themes.

While the website is a key element of the plot, it’s not done in a way that makes the book ‘nerdy’, nor of something that would be of particular interest to the geeky community. On the other hand, the social engineering and development of a persona for this purpose is given more time and is certainly quite interesting. It’s also the first book that I’ve read that deals with the theme of a man straying from his wife in thought if not deed with someone he has only met online. Of course, whether that person is exactly who she is claiming to be is maybe another matter…

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