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by Simon Toyne
William Morrow, July 2022
400 pages
ISBN: 0062329790

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When Laughton Rees was a teenager, she barely escaped with her life from one Adrien McVee whom she saw kill her mother. McVee was an accused pedophile and serial killer, the Masked Monster, whose conviction had just collapsed because of police mishandling of evidence. Laughton's father was the lead inspector in the case and McVee attacked the Rees family to avenge the destruction of his own life. He never admitted to being the Monster and died in prison. As a result of this terrible trauma, Laughton ran from home, spent time on the streets, had a baby when she was seventeen, and finally ended up in a successful rehabilitation program. She has never forgiven her father for his failure in the McVee case.

Now, years later, Laughton is a respected academic and author of an authoritative handbook on how to view a crime scene as an investigator. When the body of Kate Miller is discovered, it has been ritually displayed, surrounded by several objects that are difficult to interpret and one that is fairly clear - a copy of Laughton's book. Although Laughton resolutely avoids dealing with open cases due to the tragedy that has shaped her life, she is drawn into this one not merely by the positioning of her book, but because once the sensational press make the connection between Laughton, her father, now Police Commissioner, and the Masked Monster, she cannot remain apart. And DCI Tannahill Khan, in charge of the investigation, can use her help and feels he can best protect her if she is officially part of the investigation team.

The circumstances of Kate Miller's death propel the story to the front pages of the tabloids. An attractive youngish woman, she was found in her very expensive house in North London. Her husband, Mike, is missing. Neither husband nor wife have any history whatever. They are not who they appear to be and who they really are remains a mystery for some time.

The entire story is of course food and drink for the tabloid press, especially for one exceptionally vile journo named Slade. The star reporter for a rag called The Daily, he commands a significant budget used to tempt sources to reveal all they know exclusively to him and files his stories as quickly as possible on The Daily's website without any exceptional concern for either their truth or their effect. The media have a field day, speculating wildly, resurrecting the story of the Rees family, speculating on the current relationship between Laughton and her father, and misrepresenting her book as a kind of murderers' manual on how to cover their tracks.

Toyne controls the narration of this complex tale by dividing it up among the various players, devoting alternating chapters to Laughton, DCI Khan, the murderer (identified as "he"), Slade, and for reasons best known to the author, members of the Highgate Ladies Book Club, who I suppose are there to represent the general public consuming the latest news. It's a tactic that works very well for this complicated plot, as it allows Toyne to develop periodic and effective moments of suspense that will keep readers turning pages. He is also able to maintain present tense narration without irritating these same readers.

In short, DARK OBJECTS is an entertaining read, providing an intriguing puzzle for the reader to untangle, written with care and attention, and which by and large plays fair with the plot. Or at least, it is till the very last pages, when for reasons not altogether clear, Toyne produces a gigantic rabbit out of his hat, one that the very observant reader might have suspected but would have discarded along the way on the grounds of improbability. It's both an unanticipated and unwelcome development that undermines much of what has gone before.

The publishers list DARK OBJECTS as "Laughton Rees: Volume No. 1," which suggests it is the first in a series. I certainly hope this is true and that now Laughton has at least confronted her daemons, she and Tannahill Khan return to unravel more crimes.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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