Jan 9 2018 4:00pm

Review: Darkness, Sing Me a Song by David Housewright

David Housewright’s Edgar Award-winning Holland Taylor series returns with a case of murder resulting from tragic, twisted drama in an extremely wealthy family in Darkness, Sing Me a Song.

How often do fictional private detectives’ personal lives mirror their on-hand cases? More than you’d think. David Housewright’s Holland Taylor is “a PI who does simple background checks and other mostly unchallenging cases,” but he’s finally ready to put the misery of his wife and child’s death behind him and embrace life once more. Coincidentally, the former cop’s new case challenges him to his core.

Holland’s mother presses him to move on, although she’s sympathetic to how much he’s still consumed by memories of his wife Laura and their child. It’s a classic, excruciating phone call between a parent and a grown-up child. If Holland could get a word in edgewise, he might point out that he has a preponderance of women in his personal life.

“Since the drunk driver … It’s getting to be an awfully long time ago.”

“Nine years, seven months, sixteen days.”

You’d think that after all these years I would have lost track. Only it was how I calculated the passage of time—before Laura, Laura, after Laura.

There was a long pause on the line before my mother spoke again. “It’s time for you to find someone new and settle down,” she said. “I’m going to say good-bye now so you don’t accuse me of hanging up on you.”

Holland Taylor’s current assignment is to perform a seemingly simple background check on the fiancée of the heir to the prominent Barrington family. By the time Taylor discovers that Emily Denys is an assumed name masking a “fabricated” background, Emily is “murdered—shot in the head outside her apartment.” Taylor’s client, Eleanor Barrington, the wealthy “doyenne” of the family, is arrested for the murder:

“Barrington made no secret of her disdain for the victim, convinced that she was trying to take advantage of her son and her family.”

The Barrington family puts the “D” in dysfunctional. Taylor isn’t often shocked by the foibles of human nature—after all, it’s his bread and butter to investigate and clean up dirty little all-too-human messes. However, when Joel Barrington accuses Taylor of teaming up with his mother to murder his fiancée, he’s taken aback. Why does Joel “want it to be true?”

“It is true. My mother knew I loved Em and that I wanted to marry her. Only she couldn’t stand to see me happy with another woman. She couldn’t stand to see me leave her house, leave her bed.”

“Her bed?”

“Didn’t my mother tell you? We’ve been sleeping together for six years.”

“Are you serious?”

“It started nearly a year after my father was killed in a plane crash with his mistress. My mother came to my bedroom—it was the night of my eighteenth birthday party.”

Taylor fights the shock and revulsion he feels. He recalls the lessons he learned when he was a cop, especially his four years in homicide.

You’re taught from the get-go to suppress your feelings, to take what comes. Otherwise your judgment becomes clouded; you make decisions based on emotion instead of facts. You can blow a case doing that. You can lose your life doing that.

Eleanor Barrington is Taylor’s client. When she’s released on bail, Taylor shifts to a well-worn Plan B: if one’s client is innocent, and that is to be proven without a shadow of a doubt, someone else must be guilty. Darkness, Sing Me a Song is the meandering journey of that investigation.

Taylor’s inquiries eventually take him to Arona, Wisconsin, where the Barrington family has a substantial spread in the countryside along the Trempealeau River. Taylor realizes very quickly that it won’t be easy to subtly talk to the townsfolk. The owner of the Everheart Resort, Bill Everheart, warns Taylor right off the bat, “I don’t want any trouble in my place.”

“Are you expecting trouble?” I asked.

“I got sand minders staying here, and environmentalists, and tourists that came for the fishing and water and want to be left alone—three groups that hate each other so, yeah, I’m expecting some trouble. Not to mention the townspeople. The community—used to be we had names. Now we have labels—right wing, left wing, neoconservative, flaming liberal, obstructionist…”

Taylor got the drift. Proponents of fracking are facing opposition in the community, including from the Barrington family. How these seemingly disparate threads tie together as Taylor ingeniously picks the seeming case against Mrs. Barrington apart, piece by piece, is a tour de force. It makes this reader want to go back and catch up on the first three books in the Holland Taylor series while waiting for number five.

Read an excerpt from Darkness, Sing Me a Song!


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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry ... I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!

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