A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong is the 2nd book in the Casey Duncan series.
Author Kelley Armstrong delivers a gripping tale of mystery and survival in a harsh, unforgiving environment where a killer is on the loose. In this 2nd installment in the Casey Duncan series, we are back in Rockton—the secret, off-the-grid town made for those on the run from their pasts. Casey, once again, must find a killer in the wilds of Yukon, Canada.
Armstrong keeps the pacing at top speed with short chapters and hooks to pull the reader along. Before I knew it, I was well past the halfway point, although it didn’t feel like I had been reading long at all. I am a fan of short chapters and find that they serve their purpose well here. Armstrong also keeps the story flowing by adding depth and complication to the mystery as it deepens. Add in a compelling cast of characters and you’ve got great storytelling.
Casey is a very intriguing character by herself. She’s strong, petite, and can kick some series ass by way of her martial arts training. But she also has her share of faults and a muddied past. All of these things come together to make her a strong female lead.
Pairing her with local sheriff Dalton—who is her opposite and yet similar in many ways—is a perfect match. His blunt, sometimes brutal persona is complimentary to her witty self. With Dalton I get a distinct picture of him and his mannerisms: a type of Wild West sheriff that rules with muscle and intimidation, commanding respect and even admiration.
As Dalton drags Trent through town, people pop out from houses to watch.
The first time I saw Dalton do this, I was horrified. It seemed text book police brutality. But this isn’t beating the shit out of a suspect behind closed doors and then claiming he fell down the stairs. Everyone who watches knows what has happened. Everyone knows this is what will happen if they interfere with our case. Everyone agrees, in silent accord, that this is fair, and as they watch, they roll their eyes and shake their heads at the dumb-ass who crossed Dalton.
Setting the novel in the middle of a freezing and unforgiving Canadian winter really added to the bleak ambiance and also allowed for plenty of snuggly sexy times with Casey and Dalton. The cold winter setting became a character in its own right, providing challenges and obstacles, as we see Casey and her coworker struggling with these elements in the beginning.
White. That’s all I can see. Blinking against the prickle of ice pellets, I shut my visor. Even with it shut, I hear the howl of the wind, an enraged beast battering at me.
Early on, a resident of Rockton—long thought to have met a tragic fate earlier—is found. The woman, Nicole, has been held captive in a hole in a cave for over a year. The man who held her there is most certainly a monster. He’d left her in near darkness, without enough room to stretch out, and the abuse she endured was horrific. She’s frail and fragile, and Casey immediately feels empathy for her. She also feels responsible for her well-being going forward, as we see here when she goes to talk to Nicole after they bring her back to Rockton:
We talk for a little more after that, until she’s flagging, and I make some excuse to go. As I leave, she says, “I’ll be okay.”
And I think she will be. I’m just not sure I could have said the same if I was the one in a hole for over a year.
Four hundred and forty days.
Another interesting character is Mathias, the local butcher:
If there’s a stereotype of a butcher, he doesn’t fit it. He looks like a young Ian McKellen, a little less dapper and a little more … I won’t say dangerous, but there’s a glint in his eyes like he’s sizing up everyone around him and finding them terribly amusing.
Mathias and Casey have a special rapport, speaking French to one another while others don’t understand the language. I got the feeling that Mathias wanted to watch out for Casey, and as the story progressed, their relationship became more complicated. He is wise, and with his psychology background, his analytical skills are top notch. He randomly dispenses nuggets of wisdom such as this:
“Good. Open-ended favors are trouble. People will take advantage of you.” He resumes sharpening. “You know I like that you speak French to me. And you are interesting. Here? Interesting is the best thing a person can be. You are also very easy to look at. That never hurts. But do you know what’s more dangerous than a pretty girl?”
“A pretty girl with a gun?”
He laughs. “No, a pretty girl who is also clever…”
“Do you know what is even more dangerous than a pretty and clever girl? A pretty and clever woman.”
As the mystery of who took Nicole deepens and bodies are discovered, the race is on to find the perpetrator. It’s a story that keeps you guessing, with many twists and turns along the way.
A Darkness Absolute is the perfect read for a chilly, winter night, when the snow is falling outside and a warm cup of goodness and a blanket are waiting close by.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.