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by Alex Barclay
HarperCollins, July 2005
400 pages
ISBN: 0007195362

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I suppose we should be glad that most of the book publishers aren't on a par with music publicists when it comes to eye-catching gimmicks to persuade reviewers to take a look at their product. There was a famous incident some years ago when a UK crusty band sent bars of soap to reviewers. Mind you, a similar band sent a writer a turd in a box when they disagreed with his review . . .

Alex Barclay's debut novel DARKHOUSE arrived all tied up with police scene of the crime tape. Once I'd unravelled it I found a book that turned out to be mildly diverting and that was about it. Oh, and the tape was far more intricate than the plot.

The book is mainly set in the Republic of Ireland. I like Ireland, so was looking forward to recognising places I'd been to. In point of fact, the book could have been set anywhere for the amount of local atmosphere we got. I think I was expecting Barclay to make more of the setting and village characters than she did.

The plot is a slight diversion from the standard serial killer theme. NYPD detective Joe Lucchesi takes leave from the police when a case comes to a violent end. He moves his wife and son to the south east coast of Ireland, to a village where his wife Anna spent her childhood. But, as is the way with these things, the past comes back to haunt him, and a murder occurs far too close to home. And he discovers his family are lying to him.

The snag with DARKHOUSE is that I didn't feel a pull to any of the characters. Joe is forgettable, selfish interior designer Anna is hideous, and the teenage son Shaun apprentice hideous. There's a fairly bland cast of locals, including the archetypal good cop, bad cop.

Barclay's writing is spare and crisp, but the book lacks depth and it didn't hook me enough. Once I set it down, I wasn't rushing to pick it back up again. There's an underlying darkness to DARKHOUSE, though, that makes me think Barclay might be worth watching in future.

So it wasn't a bad book. It just wasn't all that exciting. It may be a book where your mileage may vary, as they say in internet parlance.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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