Sarah Hilary’s No Other Darkness is a fabulous find, her police procedural as compelling as the very best of British thrillers.
In this novel centering on the lives DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jakes of London’s Murder Squad, both Marnie
and Noah suffer from a serious case of world-weariness. Both have reached career highs yet seem to be haunted by their respective demons. Marnie in particular
feels the pull of the past, plagued by the memory of the brutal murder of her parents five years ago.
Compassionate, inquisitive Noah loves his boyfriend, Dan, and he’s shaping up to
be the best detective Marnie has ever worked with. But Noah worries about his kid brother, Sol, who has come to stay with him after problems living with their mentally unbalanced mother.
The detectives have found a way to integrate their personal issues with police work--until they and their team members, DS Ron Carling and DC Debbie Turner, are called out to Snaresbrook and to the backyard of Number 14 Blackthorn Road, where two small bodies have been found entombed twelve feet underground. The scene is shocking. Encased in thirty square feet of cemented walls and floor, bruised by the damp and the rot, lies a mess of tin cans, clothes, toys, and picture books--and a makeshift bed on which two little boys lie cuddled together as though they’re sleeping, their bodies “making a tight comma.”
Marnie is appalled and heartbroken at the scene. The team’s forensic expert, Fran Lennox, tells Marnie that the boys were six to seven years old and had probably been dead for about four to five years. Terry Doyle and his wife, Beth, live at Number 14. Terry was the first to discover the bodies, but he can offer no explanation for the bunker that was underneath their backyard. Visibly distressed and gray with shock, he tells Marnie that
they have been playing and working in the garden for about a year, digging a vegetable patch directly over the area. They only bought the house a year ago.
All the houses on Blackthorn Road are brand-new, built eighteen months ago by sleazy property developer Merrick Holmes, who may have cut corners when he first built the estate--Number 14, in particular.
The investigation heats up when Marnie discovers the Doyles are fostering uncommunicative and sullen teenager Clancy Brand. Perhaps Clancy knows more than he’s letting on.
His attitude causes Marnie to get a nagging sensation in her skin, “like an
addict’s itch of caffeine or worse.” Marnie’s old nemesis, journalist Adam Fletcher, knows something about Clancy (and perhaps also something about the bunkers and the dead boys). He calls the boy evil; Adam is soon taunting Marnie, pushing her buttons and reminding her about the events leading up to Stephen Keele and his murder of her parents.
Hilary’s tone and polished prose style are pitch-perfect as she integrates just the right amount of suspense into her tightly-knit plot. Beyond the ghostly presence of the two little boys is the shattered, incoherent rambling of an inmate of Lawton Down Prison who talks to a woman called Esther. With her face to the wall and her head full of drugs, she counts down the hours and the minutes as whole “fog-banked” days seem to go by. Marnie and Noah have plenty of theories but little hard evidence. Perhaps the bunker was built during the
Cold War? Someone certainly knew it wasn’t airtight. Merrick Homes has no idea how someone could have access; he swears to Marnie that all the bunkers were filled in before he started building.
Suddenly Marnie is back in contact with Stephen Keele, fighting for clues in the same way she’s been fighting to uncover the truth behind what might have happened to the boys. Forced to look where it matters most--right
into the hearts of the people damaged by the crimes she’s investigating--Marnie
plunges deeper into danger and into the terrifying orbit of an unhinged, obsessed madman. From Clancy’s mysterious anti-psychotics, to a series of circles in a notebook drawn right around the time the boys were buried alive, to the games of a Machiavellian Adam who wears his scent “like amour upon his skin,” Marnie feels as if she is turning in her own circle, each one smaller than the last. Rumors of gypsy travelers and “doomsday preppers” contrast with the bland,
unsmiling facade of Number 14 Blackthorn Road, where Marnie and Noah battle to make sense of
the chaos that killed the two children.
A consummate storyteller, Hilary’s plot is always clever without being artificial or unrealistic.
Each character, both good and bad, reveals much about how lies and self-delusion can be twisted into a terrible shape, and how “the perpetrator and the victim” can be rolled into a complex miasma of pain and grief. The climax is heart-stopping, an edge-of-your-seat ending in which Marnie makes a fatal error of judgment and--just like the two little boys--finds herself trapped in an underground, subterranean world, fighting for her life, forced to depend on her wits to survive.