Book review: Fear the Dark, by Kay Hooper

[another belated review of a book I read way back in mid-2016]

This is the first book I’ve read by the author, or in this series. It is also, I think, my first paranormal mystery novel — especially the first featuring psychics.

I also have no idea how it ended up on my to-read list. Someone must have recommended it to me, but I have no idea who it was.

At any rate, this was an odd book because I really, really liked the first half. It was the perfect style for listening to an audiobook in the car: nice simple sentences, good descriptions and character introductions, excellent suspense in building the mystery and creepiness.

Unfortunately, the moment the main characters (that is, the recurring ones for the series) appeared, it started to go downhill.

I really don’t know what happened, or if I was just unobservant in the first half. But it all got cheesy so fast: first they’re all model-pretty, then they all have the most remarkable eyes you’ve ever seen, though in different ways.

Look, I’ve been in writing communities since I was a preteen with other preteens, and I’m afraid that beautiful people with special powers and extraordinary eyes will always strike me as amateur.

And the dialogue got worse, too! Too much talking when things ought to be happening, or too heavy exposition, too melodramatic discussion of the trauma inherent with psychic abilities.

My one point of concern was who would be revealed as the villain, because this mystery decided not to introduce multiple suspects to the reader. The only minor characters we got to glimpse were the diner owner/town mayor who clearly wasn’t a suspect, and Alec, the teenage boy from the troubled home who gets to hang out and work in said diner.

For a bit, I thought it had to be Alec just because we hadn’t met anyone else, and I was about to be pissed about that. (I always sympathize with the troubled kids just trying to get by without becoming bullies themselves.)

But no, the author decided to make the villain someone we hadn’t met or even heard about, and sure, I guess that’s a choice you can make.

On the pro side, I was also invested in the child Nessa escaping from her underground prison, and I thought that part was pretty well done.

It’s also interesting to figure out a new series’ — particularly a mystery series’ — level of grittiness and how real-life it’s going to be in its ugliness and horror. It took me a while to figure out how dark this one would be (again, it depended on whether or not it would pin the villainy on Alec, a kid from a troubled home), but the melodrama in the psychics’ discussions of their pasts (and also two of them unnecessarily repeating “spouse and partner” as a narrative euphemism, which drove me batty) was a clue that the grittiness level would be fairly low.

True, some characters die in graphic ways! And there’s no denying the villain was really fucked up and what he did was fucked up. But the idea that the revelation would “destroy” the town chief of police seemed a little…much. I also rolled my eyes over said police chief blaming himself excessively for…previously saving the lives of everyone involved, as it made them a target for the madman.

In all the stories I consume these days, I try to consider what I liked and why, and also what I disliked and why, so I can apply those lessons to my own writing. Here, the biggest lesson is that I definitely don’t like the trope of the Vengeful Madman as villain. It just manufactures unnecessary drama and seems both tired and a little preposterous, every time.

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