The Dark could be summed up quite quickly as an Agatha Christie style mystery thriller set in the Antarctic. When it’s dark 24/7 and the lights go out, how do you figure out whodunnit?
Our main character, Dr Kate North has managed to bag herself a place on a UNA (United Nations Antarctic Ice Station) research program of some sort – I never quite understood what the point of the program actually was, but it’s clear that the ice station is a harsh, unfriendly place to be, and with the winter coming, it’s also completely unreachable from the outside for at least six months. In terms of your survival, you might as well be in Space – you can’t even breathe outside for more than a few seconds without your lungs beginning to fail due to the extreme cold. Your phone will freeze over if you take it outside. Add to that it’s dark 24/7, it’s claustrophobic and really not the place for a prescription-drug addicted Doctor with unresolved PTSD leading to mental health issues – (who on earth was running their screening program?).
From the moment we are introduced to her, Kate’s behaviour is erratic at best and she necks that many illicit drugs from her medicine cabinet I’m surprised the book wasn’t just a series of blank pages as she completely failed to function as a human. However she somehow powers through and starts to poke her nose into the past events on the station that led to her appointment, and her predecessor Jean-Luc dead down an icy ravine. Once she starts to question just what happened, bad things start to happen to her colleagues; nasty “accidents” start to happen and it soon becomes clear that there’s a fox in the coop who doesn’t want her finding out any more – but who is it and will she live to expose them?
The station crew is 12 strong and there are others outside of that, so there are lots of characters to keep track of – I ended up taking a screenshot on my tablet of the page where they all introduced themselves. Suspicion flits from one to the other, up and down the chain of command and we’re never quite sure if Kate is a reliable narrator or if the copious amount of self-medicating that she’s doing is actually making her completely addled and we’re seeing events solely through her eyes. Towards the end of the book, Kate is forced into a situation where she has to stop taking the drugs completely and rather than this having a negative effect on her, she implausibly seems to turn into some kind of superhero; so much more capable and cognitively ‘with it’ than she has been at any point before which left me a tad confused – sobering up does not happen that fast, especially to someone who is abusing meds quite so badly. Up to this point though, I was invested as although she was annoying me and I had my suspicions as to who was up to no good, I really wanted to know who was responsible, and why.
Unfortunately I felt the ending was a bit disappointing. It was all too fast, a bit jumbled up, there were too many implausible events occurring and just absolutely daft decisions being made. The motive, when revealed felt flimsy. There was just too much going on both with subplots and characters and it got overcomplicated for me. There was however some very clever misdirection before the ‘big baddie’ reveal and although I did actually suss the perpetrator out quite early on in the book, it threw off a lot of the people I was reading with daily via the Pigeonhole online book club. I was impressed by this subversion and the way the scene had been set to make almost everyone viable as the murderer, it was well done.
The descriptive writing is great and when they go out to see the Northern Lights, I could see exactly what was being described. I felt the chill of the air whenever the outside was mentioned and the panic when things inevitably start to go wrong when away from the station. I found Dr Kate to be a most infuriating character and if I’m honest I didn’t really gel with any of the others either, but I think that’s the cost of making them all viable suspects to be a killer. You need to stay suspicious.
In summary, The Dark has it’s ups and downs – if you can ignore the constant pill-popping and subsequently terrible decisions from the main character, it’s an easy, exciting, trepidatious read. If you enjoy sorting out red herrings from real clues this book will have you thinking and you can have a good head scratch over who is picking people off one by one, and why. I think if you can read it in the winter when you can really appreciate the cold and dark it will give it an extra dimension that will only add to the experience.
Published August 19th 2021 by Hodder & Staughton
About the Author: Emma Haughton
Emma grew up in Sussex; after a stint au pairing in Paris and a couple of half-hearted attempts to backpack across Europe, she studied English at Oxford University then trained in journalism. During her career as a journalist, she wrote many articles for national newspapers, including regular pieces for the Times Travel section.
Following publication of her picture book, Rainy Day, Emma wrote three YA novels. Her first, Now You See Me, was an Amazon bestseller and nominated for the Carnegie and Amazing Book Awards. Better Left Buried, her second, was one of the best YA reads for 2015 in the Sunday Express. Her third YA novel, Cruel Heart Broken, was picked by The Bookseller as a top YA read for July 2016.
Find out more at www.emmahaughton.com or www.facebook.com/emmahaughtonwriter. Or get in touch via Twitter: @Emma_Haughton