Short Take: Interesting, but not exciting.
I’ve seen a lot of memes that end in “…there are two kinds of people”, and I have found a new one to add: People who like mysteries, and people who like thrillers. There’s a TON of overlap in the genres, of course. They’ve practically become synonymous over the years, to the point that “Mystery/Thriller” is one category, and many readers don’t even realize that they are, in fact, two entirely different things.
Which is where A Measure of Darkness comes in. The book opens with the charming Hattie preparing dinner for her visiting grandson, Isaiah, in a part of town that used to be a neighborhood, then became the bad part of town, and now is starting to undergo gentrification, with all the problems that tend to follow.
Problems such as eccentric new neighbors, who have bought and renovated an old Victorian, and now throw parties that feature loud music and a parade of people in varying degrees of altered consciousness in and out at all hours.
Isaiah goes across the street to ask them politely to keep it down a bit, for his grandmother’s sake, and then we jump ahead a few hours to when it’s all gone wrong: several people have been shot and killed, a person trying to get away runs over another partygoer, and oh yeah, there’s another dead body in the gardening shed, which may or may not have anything to do with all the other carnage.
Enter Clay Ellison. He’s a sheriff’s deputy who works with the coroner’s office, and it falls to him to identify the various bodies, and notify the families. He also volunteers to help the detective who’s actually investigating the murders find the killer(s).
In the end, all Secrets Are Revealed, and some of them are pretty good, including a strange cult-like “school”. Watching Clay work through the various puzzles and clues is interesting, and it seems like a pretty realistic depiction of how investigators do what they do.
The problem I had is that there are no real stakes for Clay. He doesn’t face any danger or threats, or even an argument with his girlfriend. There’s a bit of tension between him and his brother, but nothing out of the ordinary. The worst thing he personally comes up against is that other cops think that he tends to get involved in investigations that aren’t assigned to him, which, well, the whole book is him working an investigation that wasn’t assigned to him. And his job isn’t threatened or anything, it’s merely an observation by a colleague.
So while it’s satisfying to see a puzzle get solved, it’s hard to get deeply invested in a story where a guy goes to work, does his job well, and goes home. Most of us read to escape that kind of thing.
The Nerd’s Rating: THREE HAPPY NEURONS (and a sweet pair of extendable angel wings. For all my party needs!)