‘A Darkness Absolute’ – Rockton #2 by Kelley Armstrong

It’s been about four years since I read City Of The Lost, the first book in this series about a detective seeking atonement for and refuge from her past by living and working in a secret town hidden in the Yukon forests. At the time, I thought:

…it was an intriguing thriller in an original and compelling setting, populated with believable characters. The women are especially well drawn and the impact of abuse and guilt is shown with skill and empathy but without becoming maudlin or didactic.

I hadn’t been planning to listen to A Darkness Absolute this week. I’d intended on having a genre-free week, but it’s been very hot here and I decided to opt for an entertaining read instead.

A Darkness Absolute was entertaining, up to a point. It has a clever plot which kept me guessing about who the bad guy was. Even when I thought I’d figured it out, I still couldn’t see how they would be caught. There was a black-tongued Newfoundland puppy called Storm. There was a mild but credible romance between the detective and the Sheriff. There were some good action scenes, a relatively strong sense of place and some truly scary people.

Yet, overall, it didn’t work for me. My problem started with the nature of the crime at the heart of the plot: a man who abducts women, holds them in a hole in the ground for months at a time while he rapes, degrades and weakens them and then throws them away like trash when he’s done. I suppose it’s a tribute to Kelley Armstrong’s writing that this evoked such clear images in my head but they’re not the stuff of entertainment. Set something like that up and I expect the violent misogyny to be balanced by bloody, merciless retribution. To me, it felt like the plot delivered the mechanics of that but not the emotional impact.

I particularly didn’t like that the rapist’s behaviour wasn’t put down to him being a biological aberration we’d all be better off without, but was blamed on the abuse he received from his mother and the lessons she hammered home that most women are whores. It wasn’t that this was an infeasible explanation, but it felt too facile and too forgiving to me.

I felt that the pace of the book was a little off in the middle. The tension and the sense of urgency waned, replaced by mild romance and some puzzle-solving and second-guessing that felt bloodless, almost academic.

The plot and the quality of the narration kept me reading to the end but they weren’t enough to bring this book up to the standard of Kelley Armstrong’s other thrillers. Despite the additional details about how Rockton works and the development of the cast of characters who live there, I was left with no appetite to move on to the next book in the series.

Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of Thérèse Plummer’s narration.

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