Written by Kelley Armstrong — As A Darkness Absolute opens, Detective Casey Duncan and her colleague Deputy Will Anders are on snowmobiles roaming the Canadian wilderness looking for Shawn Sutherland. Duncan and Sanders work for Rockton, an off-the-grid, secret town of 200 people. Sutherland has run away, which is against the rules because once you move to Rockton you are not allowed to leave.
A blizzard rages and Duncan and Anders have to find shelter. They enter a cave and spelunk deep to a place where they will be free from trouble. Just as they settle in they hear the rustling of what most likely is a grizzly bear. They make themselves silent.
The noise is not a bear but rather a woman. They move towards her cries and Anders recognises her as Nicole Chavez, a woman who went missing from Rockton and whose body they supposedly recovered over a year ago. She is alive and has been down in the cave for over a year. Nicole explains she has been the captive of a masked and unidentifiable man. Rockton is a town in the remote Yukon where people come to be safe but Nikki Chavez has just proven that that is no longer the case.
A Darkness Absolute is Kelley Armstrong’s fast-paced sequel to City of the Lost. The book is a heart-pumping ride that uses a simple, first-person narrator to thrust you into an isolated environment where, among Rockton’s 200 hundred inhabitants, a mystery plays out that is packed with surprises and intrigue, within a unique setting.
Chavez is brought back to Rockton and Casey works to get to the bottom of her captivity. Armstrong uses a typical formula, ratcheting up the tension with most chapters ending in a cliffhanger. It makes the book compulsively readable. But the fast-paced opening slows as the conversations and social drama of Rockton dominate the middle of the text and these are not as compelling as the actions scenes early on.
Duncan and those on the case explore the cave system where Chavez was found and find the bodies of two more girls. All signs point to the same killer. But the question becomes, is the act one committed by one of Rockton’s ‘settlers’, someone who lives in the town, or by someone on the outside – one of the ‘hostiles’ or a forest dweller?
Most people have moved to the secluded town to run from a dark misdeed or secret in their past. The town serves as a self-appointed witness protection community for its residents. But the internal lives of the characters, especially the protagonist, are interlaced with the knowledge of what they’ve done, and this adds an interior psychological layer to the book that works most of the time. Because of their dark pasts, everyone is a potential suspect in the kidnapping of Chavez and murders of the other women. Twists and turns ensue. Sometimes, the author veers into the sappy a bit too much, especially with the narrator Duncan, and the result is that she comes off as two-dimensional.
The action picks up again in the last third of the book, and it has the same bite and gallop of the first third as the mystery of who is kidnapping these women comes to a head. The terse and clear writing style helps the pacing once again.
A Darkness Absolute is creepy, and the psychological elements do add to what is a satisfying book, though it is slightly too long. Readers who enjoyed The Wayward Pines series, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Walking Dead will love how the author uses the remote unique location of Rockton as the setting for her book. A Darkness Absolute is absolutely worth reading provided you’re willing to slog it through that middle section.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars