Fresh Meat: Darkness First By James Hayman

Darkness First by James HaymanDarkness First by James Hayman, the debut thriller featuring Detectives McCabe and Savage, shows the deadly effects the OxyContin trade has on a small northeastern town (available October 1, 2013).

In the course of one year, the small coastal towns of Maine have been swamped with an influx of Canadian OxyContin. Dr. Emily Kaplan is well aware of this trend when Tiffany Stoddard shows up at her door—bruised, battered, pregnant, and carrying $600,000 worth of the drugs in her backpack. Tiffany wants the doctor to help terminate her pregnancy, but only under the condition of anonymity because she doesn’t want to be found by the man who owns the OxyContin. When Emily refuses, Tiffany runs out into the night. Emily follows her.

Later that night, Tiffany is found dead and Emily is comatose near her body.

Detective Maggie Savage, one of the best and brightest in the Crimes Against People department of the Portland PD, and best friend of Dr. Emily Kaplan, joins the state police in trying to hunt down Tiffany’s killer. As Savage probes deeper, she discovers the influx of OxyContin and the young woman’s death are connected. And Tiffany isn’t the only young woman who has turned up dead. All of the women seemed connected to one man: Conor Riordan. The only issue is that Conor Riordan doesn’t exist.

Darkness First, by James Hayman, is the first in a new series featuring Maggie Savage and her boss/partner Michael McCabe. It’s a bold debut, with a truly vicious bad guy and smart police officers.

Darkness First opens with a prologue designed to show the reader just how manipulative and mean the antagonist is. The mysterious Conor Riordan has recruited two poor suckers, Rory and Scott, to pull off the largest drug heist in prescription med history. Unfortunately for Rory and Scott.

He watched through the binoculars until he couldn’t see them thrashing any more. Emptied the beer bottles and carefully wiped off their fingerprints. Washed and dried them to remove any trace of DNA and tossed them into his recycling bin. Next he pulled out the small bag they’d stowed in the kayak. He checked the Glock 17 Rory had used to kill the guard. Confirmed two rounds had been fired, put it back in the bag, fingerprints intact. Then he put their wallets with their New Brunswick drivers’ licenses in the bag as well. If the bodies weren’t found or if eventually they washed up bloated or half-eaten, a ballistics check, the surveillance video, the prints on the gun and the IDs in the wallets would all tie them to the theft and the killing of the guard. There was nothing at all that would tie them to him.

Months later, Tiffany Stoddard shows up at Dr. Emily Kaplan’s homey doctor’s office with piles of the pills Riordan managed to steal. She’s killed—in a very brutal fashion—and Riordan runs Kaplan over, leaving her comatose.

That was probably Riordan’s mistake. Because Dr. Kaplan’s best friend is a detective named Maggie Savage, and Savage has just closed a case, so she’s due some free time—free time she uses to hunt this guy down. The brutality of the murder convinces Savage that this killer needs to be brought to justice, no matter the cost.

Fourteen years of living with death and yet the first encounter with a victim as brutalized as Tiff Stoddard wasn’t easy. One of the hardest parts was not letting her genuine feelings show through. As a woman, she had to seem tougher than that to the guys she worked with, most of whom would see any honest display of emotion as further proof of female weakness. But the simple truth was she still took each death hard. Especially when the victims had their damned eyes open and were staring at her, or, as in the case of Tiffany Stoddard, one eye open.

The viciousness of Stoddard’s killing seemed incongruous in the sweet cool air of an August morning. She was lying where she fell, in the middle of a pool of drying blood, bra hanging loose, pants pulled down, one eye battered shut, the other mirroring the horror of her last moments. Tiff’s hands still clutched her nearly severed neck, her final futile attempt to keep her life from bleeding out.

The deeper Savage searches, more frightening truths are revealed. Tiffany Stoddard and Emily Kaplan were not Riordan’s first victims. Riordan killed a cop’s wife. He murdered another young woman who may have tried to snitch on him. Unless Savage can stop him, they won’t be his last.

To make matters worse, Tiffany Stoddard left behind a mysterious package with her young sister, Tabitha.

Tiff handed her a package. It was wrapped in layers of newspapers and taped tight. ‘I need you to hide this for me.’

The package weighed next to nothing. Tabbie shook it and thought she heard some stuff rattling around inside but couldn’t tell for sure.

‘Don’t do that,’ said Tiff.

‘What’s in it?’

‘A secret. Something I don’t want anyone to know about or see. Including you. So don’t open it. I’ll know if you do because I wrapped it in a special way. When you get home hide it where nobody will find it and don’t say anything to anybody. That’s very important. You can’t tell anyone. Not Mom or Dad. Not any of your friends. Nobody. Ever. Can you promise me that?’

 And now Tabitha has disappeared.

Darkness First has enough twists and turns to keep the pages flipping. A refreshing element is that Hayman has made certain police procedure, when broken, has a good reason for being broken. Sometimes it’s frustrating to read about cops breaking the rules just to break them and here every hitch gets its explanation. The characters’ motivations are clear and add to the developing tension—each character is out to get what he/she wants and the resulting head-butting is fun, and often frightening, to read.


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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.

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