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by Donna Anders
Pocket Books, December 2004
384 pages
ISBN: 0743427319

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In Donna Anders's AFRAID OF THE DARK, there are monsters in Jessie's Oakland, California neighbourhood: the boys who terrorise her 11-year-old son Danny and try to make him join their gangs. A police officer, Jessie knows just how dangerous a situation this is. So, when she inherits her childhood home on tranquil, remote Cliff Island, and she gets a job as assistant police chief there, her problems appear to be solved.

Really, they're only beginning. Jessie's past follows her to the island in the shape of a man she thought she had left in San Francisco. Things go bump in the night, intruders abound, and accidents aren't. She also encounters another danger: falling in love with her boss, the police chief.

AFRAID OF THE DARK reads as if the media for it was intended is Hollywood film rather than prose. Hollywood tropes abound, from the creepy house and predictable romantic subplot to the unreal innocence and good behaviour of the child. The character who is murdered is so sketchily drawn and introduced so late that her death provokes pity rather than horror. When the child announces that his new house looks like ³something out of a fairy tale,² you don't need to think hard to know that something is about to go very wrong.

Andrew's interpolation of lengthy passages of exposition into the dialogue makes the characters' speech sound forced and unnatural. Jessie tells her son ³since I'm a cop I guess you'll have to wait outside till I check everything out.² She has been a cop for several years now: her son must be aware what she does for a living and how it determines her behaviour.

The narration, too, could do with some editing. For example, we are told at least twice that one character is eight months pregnant, and then is called ³Thrasher's pregnant wife² several more times. Intelligent readers are not likely to forget her condition, particularly as it's virtually her only character detail. I found it jarring that many chapters end with fragments punctuated as if they are sentences. ³And slept until morning², ³And then he hung up,² and ³If she was alive² are a few randomly chosen examples. Even the book's final line, ³Only time could tell,² conforms to this rule.

The plot is engaging, because Anders evokes great empathy for Jessie and sympathy for her child. That should keep many readers racing through the thriller plot. This isn't a challenging book, nor an eloquent one, but Anders tells a good story.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, April 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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