The Dark by Emma Haughton
At the time of writing, the UK is currently sandwiched between 2 storms. Tuesday night saw us buffeted by Storm Dudley, bins went missing, birds were blown out of the sky and driving was rather exciting to say the least. And today we are due the arrival of Storm Eunice which has a red warning in the South West and parts of Wales and is predicted to snow here in the North.
It's currently raining and dark. So dark we have all the lights on at 8.30 in the morning whilst I'm writing up this post. Now before you think we have wondered into the Shipping Forecast, the promise of snow leads very nicely into my next review for the rather brilliant The Dark by Emma Haughton which is set in a place where there is a lot of weather, Antarctica.
In the Most Inhospitable Environment, cut off from the rest of the world, there's a killer on the loose.
A&E Doctor Kate North has been knocked out of her orbit by a personal tragedy. So when she's offered the opportunity to be an emergency replacement at the UN research station in Antarctica, she jumps at the chance. The previous Doctor, Jean-Luc died in a tragic accident while out on the ice.
The move seems an ideal solution for Kate; no-one knows about her past, no-one is checking up on her. But as total darkness descends for the Winter, she begins to suspect that Jean-Luc's death wasn't accidental at all.
And the more questions she asks, the more dangerous it becomes.
This is a masterclass in the writing of a cracking good psychological thriller. And it is achieved by balancing the characters and the landscape.
The first thing to applaud here is the research. I admire anyone who can go to Antarctica and live in a research station for 6 months of the year in Winter. There is no light. I'm barely making it through February as it is! This is 6 months, cut-off from everywhere, living with the same people in conditions that want to kill you. Emma Haughton has clearly done her research well here. We learn about the water situation, the generators, the projects that the personnel are working on. It's well done.
Haughton writes fascinatingly about the psychological impact on the research team. People drift away from one another, become deflated and slightly down. It happens gradually and imperceptibly and is down mainly down to the lack of light, sleep patterns become interrupted and there is not the impetus to complete basic tasks. The atmosphere is one of lethargy and isolation. Throw in a potential murderer on the loose, and this leads to a powder keg of a situation, with the research team becoming increasingly paranoid about their lonely situation.
Kate North is an interesting character to say the least. She is not particularly likeable, and has a dependency on painkillers and medication that she self-prescribes following an accident. She is scarred, wounded and as a reader I never quite trusted her. But this is the beauty of the psychological thriller. The things Kate sees, the paranoia she feels about Jean-Luc's death. Is this all just in her head? Is she looking for something that was never there? And is she creating a situation of paranoia for the rest of the team?
It is fascinating watching the whole situation slowly unravel, and all against a background of oppressive danger and isolation. The part where Kate finds herself outside, alone, with no light is terrifying, even when she is not very far from the station. This piles on the paranoia, and it is almost a welcome relief when the novel swerves and we find ourselves on a potential murder hunt.
And so in conclusion, I thought this was rather brilliant Great research, storytelling designed to confuse and make us not trust our senses and the Antarctic. Think The Thing meets Agatha Christie, which is a sentence I never thought I would write. Emma Haughton is known for writing Young Adult novels, I do hope she stays with crime. Excellent.