Our second review from Anna (you can find her as @OfBooksNCoffee on Twitter!)
Hare’s Landing, West Cork. A house full of mystery…
Rachel Lambert leaves London afraid for her personal safety and determined to uncover the truth behind the sudden death of a homeless man with links to a country house hotel called Hare’s Landing.
New York-based crime reporter Caroline Kelly’s career is threatened by a lawsuit and she needs some thinking space away from her job. But almost as soon as she arrives, Hare’s Landing begins to reveal its own stories – a 30-year-old missing person’s case and the mysterious death of the hotel’s former owner.
As Rachel and Caroline join forces, it becomes clear that their investigations are intertwined – and that there is nothing more dangerous than the truth…
Title: The Dark Room| Author: Sam Blake| Publisher: Corvus | Publishing date: January 7th 2021 | Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-17-86498-60-1 | Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller | Language: English | Source: ARC provided by the publisher | Starred Review
The Dark Room Review
Thanks to Netgalley and Atlantic Books for the advance copy.
The Dark Room is a stand-alone novel written by Sam Blake. The author’s name may sound familiar: Sam has written a hugely popular series about Dublin-based Garda Cathy Connolly.
This time, the plot takes away from Dublin to the atmospheric and creepy hotel in West Cork.
(Minor summary hidden under spoiler tag)
Rachel, Hunter’s partner and location scout, discovers that the houseboat that she and Hunter share was ransacked and all Hunter’s cameras were stolen. She’s expecting a visit from the police regarding the break-in. Instead, she learns about Hunter’s accident. In the hospital, Hunter asks her to find out what happened to Alfie on his behalf. At this point, she starts to wonder if Alfie and Hunter’s accidents were connected. Thanks to Hunter’s tip, she takes and sets off to a hotel called Hare’s Landing, the only place Alfie ever mentioned, hoping to avoid any potential danger and discover Alfie’s past.
Meanwhile in New York, Caroline, an investigative crime reporter, faces a lawsuit and suspension. Needing some peace and quiet, she decides to retreat to the Irish countryside, and the Hare’s Landing in West Cork looks like a perfect place for her to hide. Once she arrives, whether by her curiosity or force of the professional habit, Caroline finds herself drawn to the mystery surrounding the suicide of the hotel’s former owner.
The paths of Rachel and Caroline intersect at the hotel. Hare’s Landing and the neighbouring area were a fantastically eerie setting. The hotel’s description and its gothic interiors were well written, and I relished discovering more about the house and its history. The sense of oncoming danger was palpable, especially during the events taking place at night. The most prominent feeling about Hare’s Landing was isolation. Although there were people working in the hotel, the characters seemed very isolated. The fact there was barely any mobile phone reception to be found made this feature even more prominent.
As the only two guests at Hare’s Landing, Rachel and Caroline are caught between a hostile housekeeper, little or no Wi-Fi or mobile reception, some prying locals, and Irish weather in January. Naturally, they gravitate to each other and share the respective mysteries searching for answers.
In the beginning, the narrative is alternating between Rachel and Caroline’s perspectives. I knew that their plots would eventually join from the blurb, and I thoroughly enjoyed following their separate storylines. The story is focused on the plot more than the characters. I found neither of the two leads particularly compelling, but despite that, they have enough details and personality to make them interesting.
Rachel brings in compassion and good nature, as well as a very clever side-kick. Her dog, Jasper, brings so much to this story, and it’s great to see an animal having such an impact, rather than being just a token pet.
Caroline is very inquisitive, more proactive, and her journalist senses give her that extra edge. However, her sub-plot about the lawsuit and her work relationship with her boss does not end up being particularly relevant. As much as it gives her depth and colourful background, I’d love to see more to it. The one thing that annoyed me a bit was her supernatural theories. It felt more like an attempt to bring about the atmosphere than a quirk of the character.
I’ve found the secondary characters are strongly developed, and I appreciated what they bring with them. Hunter’s determination to help Alfie was endearing and spoke volumes about the relationship they developed in a short time. Mrs Travers unwelcoming attitude gave an impression she’s hiding something, while Imogen and Bronagh were the types of people who I’m usually drawn to during my hotel escapes. As for Malachi, I’ve found his association with Rachel just a bit too much of a coincidence.
The Dark Room is a highly plot-driven story, with a complex and captivating mystery that transcends past and present. I found the writing engaging and enjoyed the variety of plot lines. There was rarely a time when I was able to predict what’s going to happen next. However, it can be easy to get lost in the strands of events. This is most obviously visible towards the end of the book. The gradual increase in pace and suspense was satisfying, but the finish felt a bit rushed, and I found myself looking for answers to one or two holes.
When it comes to a classification – it reads more like a mixture between a cosy murder mystery and a thriller. I would certainly not classify it as a horror, and if this is what you’re hoping for – you will probably end up disappointed. However, if you’re into mysteries, investigations, and whodunnits – you may want to give this title a go; the writing, the setting, and the characters make it for a satisfying read, the pace is enjoyable and should keep you turning the pages, and the conclusion is decent regarding the main plot. Still, it may leave you longing for more.
You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. You can also add it to your Storygraph here: https://app.thestorygraph.com/browse?utf8=%E2%9C%93&button=&search_term=the+dark+room+sam+blake
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.