Book Review: Deep into the Dark by P.J. Tracy
By Allison BrennanJanuary 12, 2021
New York Times bestseller P. J. Tracy returns with Deep into the Dark, a brand new series set in L.A. and featuring up-and-coming LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan and murder suspect Sam Easton.
I have been a fan of P.J. Tracy since the first Monkeewrench novel and have read virtually all the books since. Twisty, dark, and wholly satisfying, exactly what I look for in a suspense thriller.
In Deep into the Dark, two seemingly unrelated narratives come together in a beautifully organic way. First, a more traditional serial killer storyline (which ends up not being what you expect—but in the best possible way.) Detective Maggie Nolan is called to the scene of a brutal slaying of a woman from the fringes of society.
She was sickened. Enraged. And very, very sad. The environment where a homicide took place said volumes about the killer and the victim. … this poor woman, a resident of Aqua Travel Lodge—a rancid boil in the most squalid part of central Los Angeles—certainly hadn’t enjoyed much comfort before death. According to Ray Lovell, the vacuous motel clerk with meth teeth who had found her, she’d been a junkie who sometimes turned tricks, sometimes tended bar at the Kitty Corral, a topless dive across the street that catered to the very bottom layer of human sediment. It all cheapened her violent, sorry demise.
The murder of Jane Doe isn’t going to be her case—there’s a task force in charge of the Monster investigation—led by Maggie’s friend and possible love interest, Remy Beaudreau. Fortunately, we’re kept in the loop of this investigation because of this connection—which becomes important as the story continues.
Maggie is a very interesting character who I liked immediately. Grieving over the death of her brother in Afghanistan, juggling a new home and new promotion, she keeps people at arm’s length. But her grief doesn’t impact her job: she’s a good cop and—as Remy says near the end—“You’re one of the sharpest detectives the LAPD has, don’t tell me you haven’t figured it out yet.”
Sam Easton is a vet suffering from PTSD. His marriage is suffering (his wife moved out, even though they still love each other.) He’s having blackouts and nightmares, but they seem to be getting better … before they get worse. He has an engineering degree, but because of his situation, he can’t even think about holding down a regular job, so he’s working as a bar back. Low stress while he gets his life together.
Sam didn’t wake up on the floor this time, but his throat was raw, so he knew he’d been shouting, maybe screaming. Yuki wasn’t here to wake him up anymore, so the dreams went on for as long as his subconscious allowed it, which was always too long. His zero-three record was perilously close to being nullified. Still, it was true he hadn’t had a dream for three nights. That was something to hang onto.
Sam is both simple and complex, which makes him incredibly intriguing. I was fully invested in his story and wanted so much for him to overcome his PTSD (for more reasons than just his own health!) But more, as the story went on, I wondered if he was an unreliable narrator. Because he does suffer from blackouts…
Melody Traegar is a bartender and colleague of Sam’s. She has a complicated past and she and Sam became friends. When her boyfriend hits her, she goes to Sam’s and tells him everything, they get drunk, she sleeps on the couch. When her boyfriend ends up dead, Maggie Nolan catches the case and Sam becomes a suspect.
Melody often wondered what her world would look like now if she’d been able to live out her adolescence happily with Aunt Netta instead of getting shunted off to her last known living relative, the sack of shit who Social Services called her father. There was no question it would be much better. She’d definitely be a college graduate by now, a music major; that’d been Netta’s dream for her. Maybe she’d even be happily married with a kid or two. That semi hadn’t just taken one life. But at least she still had one, and she wasn’t going to squander it feeling sorry for herself.”
Melody is conflicted and troubled and very believable—even when I cringed. For example, after her boyfriend hits her she does the right thing and leaves. But—like many abused women—she starts questioning her decision to walk away. It’s believable and sad and I was literally telling her (yes, talking to the book!!) to listen to Sam and stay away from the guy.
A hallmark of a great writer is to make us invested in their characters, and I was fully invested. Deep into the Dark is a meaty, character-driven crime thriller with a fully fleshed out cast of characters and vivid descriptions of the seedy L.A. underworld seamlessly woven into the narrative without slowing the pace.
The two stories eventually entwine, but not in the way you think. All the clues are there … but it’s a puzzle, and you need to work through the pieces each step of the way until the picture begins to emerge. But you need all the pieces to see it clearly. If you have never read P.J. Tracy before, this is a terrific book to start with. If you love the Monkeewrench novels, you’ll love Deep into the Dark which has all suspense and dark twists you’ve come to expect.