The Darkness Knows
I have a weakness for Film Noir. There’s something about the genre that I have loved since I was a kid (because no one will ever be able to convince me Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is anything but Film Noir in animated form). The trope of the lone wolf investigator confronted by the dangerously beautiful woman, the woman who may just turn around and betray him, is something I find utterly fascinating. However, as a woman, I get tired of constantly being the “bad guy” in the story, and long for more stories with a twist on the genre. Well, I think I found one. And it’s the first in a new series, so I have more to look forward to!
Imagine this – it’s 1938 in Chicago and radio dramas are the key to showbiz. Young Vivian Witchell, an up-and-comer in the noir drama The Darkness Knows (tonight, on your radio, with a repeat performance for the West Coast!), heads back to the staff room to grab her umbrella in between shows and stumbles across the dead body of fellow actress Marjorie Fox. The studio had already enlisted the help of private investigator Charlie Haverman as a consultant for the show, but now his job has been expanded to protecting Vivian, especially after notes are found labeling Viv as a potential next target. But Viv is pretty feisty, and even though she’s terrified, she refuses to just sit back and wait.
Viv takes advantage of the fact that Charlie already has to basically follow her around, and enlists him to help her figure out who killed Marjorie and why. Hopefully, that will help her figure out whether or not she’s actually in any danger herself. At first, Charlie is fine with this plan – as long as he gets paid, what does it matter? However, the more time the two spend together, the more Charlie seems to care about Viv, and the more he tries to block her from the action – and therefore the danger. Viv is definitely not ready to be shunted to the side, though, and definitely goes about things in her own way.
The Darkness Knows is basically a noir murder mystery turned on its head. Instead of the disillusioned gumshoe, the narrator is the beautiful woman asking for help. And since the reader lives inside her head, the beautiful woman isn’t that unreachable, dangerous or traitorous figure, she’s scared and driven and human. I adore Viv and her outlook on life – she’s determined to keep her career going, and although she makes some less than stellar choices (like going straight back to work after finding a dead body), they make sense for her. I didn’t agree with her all the time, but the woman is smart and logical. Can’t blame her for that!
The author also does a fabulous job with Charlie without once dipping inside his head. His reactions to Viv and her actions feel genuine, and the mystery of what’s going on in his mind is a pretty fun one. Charlie is fairly taciturn, and seems to be alternately bemused and befuddled by the vivacious Viv.
I really enjoyed the era portrayed here as well – the whole starlet scene was a lot of fun, and the energy in the setting felt very intense, from Viv’s publicity-organized dates with her co-star to the go-go-go attitude behind the mic. It’s definitely an interesting background for the murder mystery at its center.
The story isn’t perfect, though, especially when it comes to the relationship between Viv and Charlie. For example, Viv has had rumors following her that she slept her way into her current role (which is definitely just a rumor), but later on with Charlie seems to basically just… go for it. It was a lot faster than I was expecting. Everything is behind closed doors, but it doesn’t really fit the character as she had been portrayed. On top of that, Charlie seems to go hot and cold for reasons the reader isn’t privy to. And for a private investigator, he doesn’t really seem to be involved in the actual investigation. He comes across as intellectually slower than Viv, which is a shame. There’s no reason they can’t be equals.
But really, in the grand scheme of things, there wasn’t a lot I didn’t wholeheartedly enjoy. The Darkness Knows is a fun story with an interesting heroine, and as the first in a series focusing on Viv and Charlie, promises more fun down the line. I’m definitely going to read more of them.