29 September 2017

The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskins

When Prometheus Books sent us their list of upcoming publications, I was immediately drawn to this book because in my head, Minnesota police-crime means Fargo. I was wrong. I have to say, these murder mystery books that lack the Fargo nuances are not really my cup of tea. I know soooo many people who love these types of fiction novels, but I just don't. I either find them very scary or too easily predictable.

The premise of the story is a cop's wife is murdered in a 'hit and run' accident years before the novel takes place, and a lawyer randomly drops the cop off a tape where two men are recorded planning this hit, leading the cop, Max, to re-open the investigation behind his supervisors' backs. The novel flashes between Max re-investigating his wife's death, and forward to him in a cabin on the US/Canadian border where he is holding the supposed murderer captive as he prepares to murder him for revenge.

Allen Eskins

I did enjoy the investigation aspect to this novel. It was very Law-and-Order-esque and kept me captivated through until the murder had been solved. Eskins very clearly has a knack for mystery writing as he knows how to provide clues while also sustaining the suspense. I found myself trying to solve the murder, which I'd assume is the intended goal of all mystery fiction authors. I also enjoyed the flash forward style of narrative. The chapters written at the cabin show Max's human nature as he battles internally with whether or not he can kill this man who killed his wife. Is an eye for an eye just or is he too moral a citizen?

My main criticism of this novel is the relationships. I felt they were too extreme and poorly written. The relationship between Max and his late wife (told entirely through memory) is depicted as the highlight of any Nicholas Sparks novel. They're always laying by a fire just after making love, or throwing cookie dough at each other as they bake in the kitchen (this never happened but you get my point). I don't like to read about these types of relationships, they don't feel authentic to me, and for this reason I wasn't emotionally invested in Max's loss.

Another relationship that was over the top is the one between Max and his female police partner, Niki. I love a male-female work partnership (Law and Order SVU, The Killing, Jake Horsley and I the first year working for the city... etc.) but I felt this one was again, cheesy and overdone. Despite being hesitant, Max lets his partner in on his covert re-investigation of his wife's death after she begs for him to open up to her... and she repeatedly stresses their team dynamic, if you go down I go down and all that jazz. This passage below for example:

'I'll swing by and pick up the surveillance footage,' Niki said. 'It's on my way home.'
'It's the opposite of your way home, but thanks.'
'What are partners for?'
'Look Niki, about that-'
'No you don't I will kick your ass if you take back anything you said today.'
'But the thing is-'
'Fuck you. We had a beautiful moment. Don't ruin it.'"

Niki comes across as a bit desperate, and perhaps crushing on her partner? Except a romantic storyline there is never pursued... who talks like that to a platonic work partner? It just doesn't seem authentic to me and I couldn't get into it.

Another relationship that fell into similar patterns was the one with his dad's ex-girlfriend who speaks to him subconsciously as he's preparing to kill his wife's killer. It's clear Eskins was going for a moral female figure but it came across weird. In my opinion I wish she'd been left out of the story, as she held very little relevance to the ongoing story line. If Eskins was trying to set a pattern of Max having problematic relationships with women through these three bizarre relationships, he was unsuccessful.

I have to say I didn't entirely love this book, but I found it to be an interesting and thrilling read. I consumed it on a less-than-24-hour trip to NYC and usually I do take a long time to get through a novel... I also did just lend it to my boss who told me that he "loves trashy mystery novels". So, while it didn't blow my mind, this book was a good binge read. It's being released next month and would be a great gift/purchase for anyone looking for a fresh mystery author. 

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