Darkness All Around by Doug Magee
Author: Doug Magee
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Small Town / Murder Mystery / Amnesia / Flashback / Alcoholism / Football / Mother-Son Relationships / Second Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone (6/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did -- this was a perfect beach read -- easy to dip in and out of, depending on whether I was dipping in and out of the ocean!
One-sentence summary: A woman's small hometown is rocked by the return of her declared dead husband, the resurfacing of a brutal murder, and her own family's violent past.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z
Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's nothing special but doesn't bother me.
I'm reminded of...: Jennifer McMahon
First line: It's a body.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for a fluffy, creepy summertime read (or save for October!)
Why did I get this book?: Now and then, I like to get my creepy on!
Review: For a moment, I despaired ever really getting into this novel: the book opens with two brief chapters that were sort of vague, kind of flash back-y, and I felt my interest drifting before I could even figure out the story's hook. Then, thankfully, Magee zeroed in on his heroine and for me, the book got interesting.
While there's not a lot that's new in this book, what is offered is solid: the mystery is dark and twisted, the characters compellingly messed up, the tension creepy, and the setting claustrophobic. In a small, football-obsessed Pennsylvania town, Risa is married to a local politician, Alan, who is running for state office. Eleven years earlier, her alcoholic husband Sean disappeared and was eventually declared dead. Their son, Kevin, is the town's football star. One night, Sean returns to town, sobered up and recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and as his amnesia fades, he claims he remembers brutally murdering their friend. Understandably, Risa is kind of flipped.
I don't read a ton of these thrillers as I'm a big stress bucket and the anxiety of getting to the book's twist can render me a twitching idiot. However, Magee's book had a slow tension that I liked mixed with a kind of emotional exploration that really worked for me. Risa struggles not only with emotional impact of her declared-dead husband's return, but the potential of violence in the people she loves: her husband's addictive tendencies, her son's passion -- and skill -- at football, the implications of her current husband's involvement in the investigation of the murder and her ex-husband's past.
I'm totally over traumatic brain injuries as a plot device, and yet when it surfaced in this novel, it worked for -- and made for a rather compelling character. I'm not a football fan, either, but found the sports/violence angle interesting. (However, a character mentions in passing that Kevin might get some attention from Paterno at Penn State and the only reason I understood this reference was due to the abuse scandal.)
This was a perfect weekend read, easy for me to dip in and out of throughout the day. Creepy enough that I waved off friends to keep reading but effortless enough that I could get back into the story were my friends persistent and successful in pulling me away.
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Darkness All Around to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/3.