Written by AS Hatch — Reading can transport you to a wealth of different places and myriad experiences. Each book holds a world within its pages, and for an avid reader, those contrasts can be a bit addictive. For example, the last book I read was Silver by Chris Hammer. It’s a sprawling tale set in a dazzling landscape. Next on the pile was This Little Dark Place, and it really couldn’t be more different. The title says everything: this is an intense, and intensely claustrophobic debut crime novel.
The narrative is split into three parts, each seen from the perspective of Daniel, through his letters to someone called Lucy and his inner musings. He is a skilled carpenter but less adept when it comes to romance. Daniel is in love with Victoria, but after some time together the couple are struggling to connect. They’ve been trying for a baby but after several failed rounds of IVF they are each wrapped up in their own personal grief, dealing with it in very different ways. Daniel retreats into his work, while Victoria spends more and more time at the gym, where she meets personal trainer Scott and eventually moves in with him.
A heartbroken Daniel is at a loss as to what to do. Alone and in pain, he surfs the internet and chances upon InBox Inmate, an online penpal site and signs up to befriend a prisoner. Which is how he meets Ruby, in jail for assaulting her abusive ex-boyfriend. At first their communications are polite, stilted, even a bit dull. But gradually the pair begin revealing their innermost thoughts and secrets. Sometimes it’s easier to bare your soul to a stranger, isn’t it?
Daniel moves, alone, to the run down house in Wilder on Sea, on the Lancashire coast, that he has inherited from his mother. He begins work on transforming it and his life. Ruby’s notes get him through the dark days, but eventually he comes to his senses and severs communications. Big mistake – and one he may live to regret when Ruby is finally released from prison and comes to find him…
Up to this point, This Little Dark Place seems somewhat claustrophobic but now the walls really begin to close in and you may find yourself putting the book down and gazing aimlessly out of the window, looking for some respite from the overweening sense of doom emanating from its pages. The house that Daniel calls home is a murky, dispiriting spot – but the inside of Daniel’s head takes murky and dispiriting down to a new level. As things begin to unravel, completely out of his control, we can only look on as hapless spectators.
AS Hatch shows a skill for creating flawed, slightly unlovable characters and the sense of place can feel a little overwhelming, so dark and spooky is it portrayed. Both are pluses, but even so, I found Daniel hard to like and to empathise with. He’s a bit of a wuss really, and many of his problems are of his own making.
The enigmatic Ruby is another matter. She has plenty to hide and only gives away fleeting glimpses of her true self, but her appearance halfway through the book comes as a blessed relief… for a while anyway. Probably best not to take anyone on face value. My main bugbear about this book is the timeline – one minute in the present, the next recalling the past, with one running into the other. Perhaps this is intentional and meant to disorientate, but the reality is that it becomes annoying.
This Little Dark Place is a promising debut by an author who definitely has something new to offer the crime fiction community. One for lovers of dark psychological thrillers.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars