Search the Dark
All the comforts of home. That saying serves to remind us that home is a place where many of us feel most at ease, most ourselves. But for some, home can have a far different meaning. Home can mean the place where you were abused, looked down upon, taken advantage of. For the hero of this story his hometown embodies all those things. It is also the place where he fell in love for the one and only time.
Meredith King is a captive to her own sense of responsibility. While she finds life in her small town of Deer Run stifling, she is forced to stay in the small Amish/Englisch community in order to care for her fragile mother. Life had become a little better last year when her childhood friend Rachel returned to town. It also became a little bit worse. Rachel and Meredith had stirred up a hornets nest when their trip down memory lane uncovered new information regarding the death of an Amish teen many years ago. Now the boy’s family is grieving all over again and his friends – both Englisch and Amish – are wondering just what the two ladies will do to make matters right. But Meredith has absolutely no idea how they are supposed to do anything. The trail of a killer, if he or she exists, is long cold. And neither she nor Rachel are detectives. Just as she is wondering how she will handle this difficult issue a whole new (yet old) problem walks back into her life.
When people talk about love changing lives they are right. For Zach Randal, the bad boy of Deer Run, falling in love with Meredith King, good girl, had resulted in some big changes. Meredith made him see there was more for him in the world than what the narrow minded people of the community tried to pigeonhole him into. Then her mother accused him of theft and threatened to prosecute unless he left her daughter alone. Zack, chased out of town before he even finished school, found himself running from bad to way better. He falls in with the right people, a mentor that offers love, guidance and support. He becomes a detective for the Pittsburgh PD and has a good, solid life ahead of him. So why, when he returns to settle his stepmother’s estate, does he find himself looking for the girl he left behind?
Zack and Meredith run into each other almost immediately after he returns to town. And just to prove that the more things change the more they stay the same, Meredith’s mother once more responds with malice to the idea that the two might get back together. But Meredith is no longer a shy young girl. She begins to push back against her mother’s restraints, both in developing a relationship with Zack and in continuing her research into the mysterious death of the Amish teen. Her behavior seems to send the whole town into a whirlwind of emotion, leading everyone towards a shattering, violent conclusion.
When reading this novel I couldn’t help but feel it had a designated audience. In my mind, that reader was a middle-aged woman upwards of fifty years old. She wants a sweet love story with a cozy mystery. No racy sex scenes, no graphic encounters with crimes. For that reader, this is just about the perfect tale. Meredith acts very much like a woman from a generation or so ago, willing to sacrifice her life for her mom and happy to live a very placid existence where she volunteers for the ladies auxiliary and does a bit of accounting at home. Until she starts looking into the death of the Amish boy her life is like a quiet lake on a windless day: absolutely no ripples to mar the perfect calm.
Zack is like a bad boy from the fifties. Maybe he is a bit loud, a trash talker who goofed off in school but there is nothing really derelict about him. He’s the kind of guy who might steal to eat but wouldn’t hurt a soul to do it. The impression I got from the book was that his bad boy image came more from the fact that he came from a bad family than it did from the fact that he was actually poorly behaved. Again, a very 1950s sort of attitude. He is also not as cynical or hard as most cops of this era are portrayed. He has seen more of the dark side of life than Meredith but then, most junior high kids would be more aware of the dark side of life than Meredith.
There is some heat between Meredith and Zack but in keeping with the nature of the story the romance is far more sweet than sexy. The emphasis is on the fact that both treated the high school relationship like it had been puppy love but deep in their hearts they both knew they had the real thing. Appropriately, given that the mystery takes up a lot of the time and there are several issues Meredith has to deal with on the home front, the relationship is in the “let’s date and see” phase when the book ends.
Overall, the story is a pleasant, quick read. The mystery is assuredly on the cozy side; there is violence but it’s not graphic. The culprit was pretty obvious to me but that didn’t detract from my interest in the case. I kept questioning whether I had it right since the author worked hard to bring new suspects on the scene.
So the story is sweet and easy to read but would I recommend it? I would, with reservations. I mentioned the ideal reader above. If that description fits who you are as a peruser of tales, than the novel is for you. If it doesn’t then I have to recommend giving this one a miss.