Watching from the Dark
Watching from the Dark is the second book in the DCI Jonah Sheens series. An engrossing look at modern friendship, it’s a timely reminder that smiles and laughter can often hide a damaged heart.
Aidan Poole is logged on to his computer late one evening, anxiously awaiting a glimpse of his girlfriend Zoe on Skype, when he hears someone open the door to her apartment. He listens as they walk across the room and as there is a struggle off camera, the sound of a single set of footsteps leaving and then silence. He doesn’t want to involve the police, but he doesn’t want Zoe to be without help. Hesitantly, he makes the call that will forever change his life.
Aidan’s phone call is brought up during the end of a rather long and boring Friday morning caseload meeting. There’s something about the caller’s phrasing that Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens finds unsettling but he’s happy to let the uniformed division take it on; his team has plenty of other things to keep them occupied. It’s the online crime report, filed later that morning and referencing the same information as the phone call that has him changing his mind and sending two of his squad out to investigate. What they discover has the whole team shelving their other work and rushing to their aid. The scene is meant to indicate a suicide but from the beginning everyone is agreed it’s a murder. As Jonah, Hanson, Lightman and the rest of the squad begin to peel back the layers of Zoe’s life, they discover a bright, cheerful, sweet young art student surrounded by needy friends who are all keeping some pretty dark secrets. The question is, which of them has something to hide worth killing over?
Reviewers Shannon and Maggie sat down to discuss Watching in the Dark and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Maggie: I enjoyed the first book in this series – She Lies in Wait – and that made me very excited to read this one. What drew you to this story?
Shannon: I liked the first book too, but it was a little slow for my taste. Even so, I was intrigued by the characters, especially Jonah, and I was eager to see where the author would take them in the second installment.
Maggie: This book is told in dual timeline format, with half the chapters taking place in the present and the others telling the story of Aidan and Zoe’s year-plus relationship. I’m a big fan of this layout.
Shannon: I’m always drawn to stories told in this way. I love the extra layers of insight we’re given into Zoe’s life, things we might not have known if Jonah’s perspective was the only one we saw. Getting to know Zoe as a person helped me to care about her murder in a way I might not have if she was just a character I never really knew.
Maggie: I agree, seeing her perspective made the crime much more personal. We get brief glimpses into the personal lives of the officers, and of course, the format ensures we have a clear picture of Zoe’s life before her death, but the focus here is on the solving of the crime. I found that aspect of the book pretty compelling; I don’t have the talent Jonah does to put the clues together, nor his attention to minute detail but I still enjoy reading about the process. Are you a fan of police procedurals and how did you feel about this one in particular?
Shannon: Police procedurals aren’t my favorite type of mystery, but I do find myself drawn to quite a few of them. Tana French and Jane Harper are examples of authors who really stand out in this arena, and it looks like I’ll be adding Gytha Lodge to my lists of authors to watch. I love the glimpses we get into the lives of the various officers. It makes them feel more human rather than one-dimensional beings who exist in a sort of vacuum.
Maggie: Zoe is drawn as a very giving, generous, big hearted person. What were your thoughts on her character?
Shannon: My initial impression of Zoe was pretty much as you described, but as the story progressed, I began to see her a little differently. She genuinely cared about her friends, but it did seem as though she felt a little smothered by their constant neediness. She seemed to have a hard time asserting herself, even when those around her were taking advantage of her big-hearted nature. She’s pretty used to her own needs being put on the back burner, and I wondered if that selflessness was more of a front than anything else.
Maggie: I got a real sense of care giver burn-out from Zoe at the end of the story. She never learned the balance of giving/receiving you need to have to do this long term and I think she just couldn’t give anymore.
I suspected Aidan’s situation from the first chapter of the book, which didn’t endear him to me, but I found myself liking him less and less as the story went on. He was manipulative and selfish in my opinion.
Shannon: I guessed certain things about Aidan pretty early on as well, but there were still a few twists in his situation that surprised me. He’s not at all likable, but then I don’t think he’s supposed to be. I felt absolutely no sympathy for him, especially as more of his deceits were revealed.
Maggie: Zoe’s friendship circle plays a big role in the book. They were, to me, all a bit unsettling.
Shannon: The author excels at writing complicated relationships. Zoe’s circle of friends had a fair amount of dysfunction that seemed to keep certain people connected, even if it might have been better for them to be more on the fringes of the group. I loved that people weren’t written in a black-and-white way; no one is all good or all bad. Instead, they dwell in that gray area so many of us are familiar with from our real-life experiences.
On a similar topic, I was fascinated by the way Jonah’s team members related to one another. Everyone has distinct strengths and weaknesses, making them a cohesive investigative unit. We don’t see much competition between the various detectives, something I really appreciated since that kind of pettiness gets on my nerves in a big way. How did the make-up of the team work for you?
Maggie: I love the makeup of this team and feel they work well together. I’ll be interested to see if that continues since everyone seems a bit frustrated by Lightman’s secrecy.
Maggie: I love Jonah’s calm, methodical approach to work and life and I think the author does a great job of balancing information about the private lives of the police officers while keeping the focus on the investigation.
Shannon: I’m hoping we’ll learn more about the detectives’ private lives as the series progresses. As it stands right now, we’re given tiny glimpses of who they are when they’re not working, just enough to keep us coming back for more. I have questions about all of them, but I’m confident they’ll all be answered in due time.
Maggie: The ending was a bit of a twist. Were you taken by surprise or did you see it from the start?
Shannon: I was very surprised by the ending. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out who the killer is, but I was so wrong this time.
Maggie: For me this was a B+ read. Enjoyable and well done, a bit low key with some moments that seemed to drag a bit, but for the most part a good example of this genre of books. What about for you?
Shannon: I’m also going with a B+. The story was more engaging than the first book in this series, but I do agree that it’s pretty low-key compared to other procedurals I’ve read. It’s a good example of that old saying about slow and steady winning the race. We don’t get much in the way of nail-biting suspense, but I still found myself utterly drawn into the story.