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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

‘Alone In the Dark’ by Karen Rose

Published by Headline,
3 November 2015.  
ISBN: 978 0 7553 9000 7 (HB)

The first thing you need to do when you pick up this book is set aside quite a lot of hours. It’s a hefty read – over 200,000 words – but once you start, you’ll want to keep going.

I admit I was a tad daunted by the length of it at first, but it rapidly became evident that it was going to be worth the late nights and missed episodes of my favourite TV soaps. It’s a high-octane rollercoaster page-turner, leaping from police investigation to borderline vigilante action and from good guys to bad guys with a skill that only comes with years of practising the art of thriller writing, which Karen Rose has, of course.

The main theme is people-trafficking, which has a powerful contemporary resonance. But these victims are not fleeing war zones in leaky dinghies with the clothes they stand up in; they are scammed into believing that the USA offers a better way of life than their third world homes, then sold into slavery by the amoral organization at the heart of the scam.

To call them unscrupulous is like saying Hitler was a little right-wing. In all the years I’ve been reading crime fiction, these are far and away the baddest bad guys I’ve ever encountered.

Enter the good guys, in the shape of Detective Scarlett Bishop and newspaper publisher Marcus O’Bannion. Scarlett is the kind of cop you want on your side: tough, feisty, capable but with a soft centre. Marcus’s newspaper is as far as it’s possible to get from tabloid hackery, and he and his team have a neat sideline in meting out their own brand of justice to abusers who manage to sidestep the law.

Scarlett and Marcus have met before the book begins, but come together in the opening chapter. A young, abused woman who has sought Marcus’s help is found dead in an alleyway, and it is soon revealed that she and her entire family have been sold into slavery by traffickers. The chase is on.

Between them, Cincinnati Police Department, the FBI and Marcus’s team of renegades peel back layers upon layers of criminality to reach the pitch-black heart of an organization which deals not only in slavery but also in child porn, drugs and any nefarious activity that will earn them a few million dollars. They don’t balk at torture, and have no hesitation in killing each other off if exposure threatens. I didn’t keep a tally of the body count, but it must have been in double figures by the end.

And that’s not all. There’s the growth of a passionate relationship between Scarlett and Marcus; plenty of larger-than-life (sometimes literally!) characters with intriguing backstories and huge personalities; and a final take-down which had me on the edge of my chair holding my breath. It’s not for the weak-stomached; I’m not squeamish, at least not when it’s fiction, but I had to skim quickly past some of the violence, especially the torture scenes. But for brilliant plotting and colourful characters you want to root for or pummel into a pulp, Karen Rose is hard to beat.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Karen Rose was born 29 July 29 1964 at Baltimore, Maryland USA. She was educated at the University of Maryland. She met her husband, Martin, on a blind date when they were seventeen and after they both graduated from the University of Maryland, (Karen with a degree in Chemical Engineering) they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Karen worked as an engineer for a large consumer goods company, earning two patents, but as Karen says, “scenes were roiling in my head and I couldn't concentrate on my job so I started writing them down. I started out writing for fun, and soon found I was hooked.” Her debut suspense novel, Don't Tell, was released in July, 2003. Since then, she has published fifteen more novels and two novellas. Alone in the Dark is her seventeenth novel.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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