Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Dark Time: Review

A Dark Time by Dennis Bradford was sent to me by the author for my honest review.'re going to get it. 

Our protagonist is Professor Magnus "Max" Stefansson, a history professor, and the time is the late 1980s.  Max is approached by Oliver Goldsmith, a wealthy big wheel in the local town whose granddaughter has gone missing.  Liz had been in one of Max's classes and had mentioned how much she liked him.  This is the tenuous link which causes Goldsmith to ask Max to investigate the disappearance.  Max, with no detective background at all, agrees and in no time discovers the body.  Amazingly enough for an ivory tower academic, he owns a gun, seems incredibly well-versed in investigative techniques, and has access to a retired police dog. This is convenient because the dog leads him to the shallow grave where Liz has been buried.  Max spends the rest of his time uncovering the secrets that led to Liz's death, falling in love with Liz's aunt, and looking for justice for what the law can't touch.

I have very mixed feelings about this one.  I was very intrigued by the premise....anyone who knows me knows that I can't resist a mystery with an academic twist.  And Bradford has a way with characterization.  All of his characters are finely drawn--I feel like these are real people and we get to know quite a bit about them and to like most of them.  And for those that I don't like--there is plenty of buildup to why I don't like them.  Oddly enough, the most illusive character is the grandfather.  After serving as the catalyst to get Max involved in the mystery, he pretty much disappears.  But Max, our hero, is very well-defined as an honest and good man.  He definitely believes in trying to do what's right and seeing that  justice is done.  Some of his methods and philosophies may not be mine, but he is an interesting and complex character who is very believable.  The supporting cast are just as well-defined.  I particularly like Laura, Liz's younger sister.  Bradford has done a great job fleshing out the character of a young, teen-age girl.  And Max's friend's Will and Ann are intelligent and supportive people--friends I wouldn't mind having myself.
Bradford also has the makings of a great storyteller in him--obviously since despite its flaws I found it very hard to put the book down, even when I had to.  There's plenty of action to keep the reader interested and lots of suspense to keep the pages turning. But....This book seems to have missed a very important element.  A good editor.  It is billed as mystery/thriller--right there on the back cover (those would be the only words on the back cover of the edition I was sent, by the way).  But there are these long, rambling monologues (mostly by Max, but sometimes by his friend Will) that get all philosophical and go on and on and I feel like I'm experiencing a "Beth story."  What is a "Beth story?" you might ask.  Well, I had a friend in college who would tell us these nice, long stories.  They would go on and on and when she got to the end, we'd all look at each other and her and ask, "And the point is?"  Sometimes, she wouldn't even remember.  Yeah, the monologues are like that.  They go on and on, and I wind up wondering, "And this furthers the story how?"  A good editor would have asked that question.....and probably penciled out most of it.  Or at least asked for a more condensed version.  The heavy philosophical bits give this book something of a split-personality.  On the one hand, it's a mystery--but, wait, I have some important things for you to think about. And let me spend the next several pages making sure you do.

And, finally, the ending chapters are not for the faint of heart or delicate-minded.  If you don't like to read about women being referred to by the c-word, then you won't like it.  I didn't care for it myself.  I can see the point with the character involved (who is pretty slimy to say the least)--but I can honestly say that had I known up front about the final chapters, I would never have picked this one out for myself.  It's most definitely not my usual style.

Overall, Bradford gets high marks for characterization and a style that kept me turning pages (except for the monologue roadblocks).  A very decent mystery with believable action and motives--and those who don't mind their books with a bit of gritty, street language will appreciate it all the way to the end.  For me--it rates 2 & 3/4 stars, verging on three.

[Disclaimer: This book was sent to me as a review copy by the author. My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate...This review copy was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]


Jackie McGuinness said...

Interesting review, well written.

Thanks for dropping by and visiting.

Bev Hankins said...