When Arizona Department of Public Safety investigator Laura Cardinal is called in to help with a crime in the small town of Bisbee, she knows this isn't an ordinary crime. A young teenage girl has been found murdered in a city park, dressed up and posed like a doll. The evidence is almost non-existent, and the local police force isn't skilled enough to handle the case--even though they think they are. What scares Laura the most is that pieces of this murder bring back haunting memories from eighteen years earlier.
When Laura was in school, an acquaintance of hers turned up missing and was presumed dead. Laura's mother became so obsessed with the true-crime aspects of the case that she began to write a book about it, and she was murdered, too. Could the abduction of Laura's classmate and the present-day murder have any connection? When another child is taken, Laura must spur her fellow officers into action to save the child before it's too late.
Darkness on the Edge of Town is an intriguing police procedural. Similar in response to FBI intervention, the local authorities are not very accepting of the Department of Public Safety's help with their cases. Laura is an outcast from the beginning, resented by those she has come to assist. Her multi-layered past makes for an interesting scope of the story, making it not just about the investigation but about Laura's life as well. The ties to her growing-up years make Laura confront inner demons that she has been hiding for decadese, adding another dimension to the plot.
There are a few too many characters (especially law enforcement ones) to keep straight, and the identity of the culprit seems too contrived. This doesn't much diminish the exciting, breakneck speed of the story, with the characters rushing to see if the young girl can be saved and the identity of the killer uncovered. And just when you think it's safe to breathe again, Black throws in a twist that will have you gulping with fear and pleasure. This debut novel is well-crafted and shows definite promise for more from the author and the main character. The next book featuring Laura Cardinal, Dark Side of the Moon, is due out in January 2006.