Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #6
Published by Severn House Publishers on December 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
The sudden appearance of a sinister black hole in the English countryside leads to a baffling murder investigation for Ishmael Jones.
"The past is England's dreaming, and not all of it sleeps soundly..."
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been despatched to assist a group of scientists who are investigating a mysterious black hole which has appeared on a Somerset hillside. Could it really be a doorway to another dimension, an opening into another world?
When one of the scientists disappears into the hole — with fatal consequences — Ishmael must prove whether it was an accident — or murder. But with no clues, no witnesses and no apparent motive, he has little to go on. Is there an alien predator at large, or is an all-too-human killer responsible? Only one thing is certain: if Ishmael does not uncover the truth in time, more deaths will follow...
There’s an uncanny, unnatural hole in the fabric of the universe, and it’s up to an almost-but-not-quite-completely human to close this extremely dangerous door in the space-time continuum.
In a nutshell, that’s the premise of Murder in the Dark, this sixth book in the Ishmael Jones urban fantasy/paranormal/SF series.
What’s even weirder is that, at least so far, it’s also the plot of The Scavenger Door, the book I’m currently listening to. Considering that I started Murder in the Dark because I wanted to keep on reading Scavenger Door but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, I was really surprised to discover that I sorta/kinda was anyway.
The Ishmael Jones series exists at an uncanny crossroads between urban fantasy, paranormal and science fiction. The SFnal element is Ishmael himself. He’s an alien who crash landed his spaceship on Earth in the early 1960s. His ship did its level best to transform him into a human, but it glitched a few of the details. He hasn’t aged a day since he crashed. And he doesn’t remember a thing about his life before the crash. Both of these “glitches” come into play a bit in this story.
The stories in this series, for the most part, have been a play on the old country house murders. Ishmael met his romantic and investigative partner Penny Belcourt in the first book in the series, The Dark Side of the Road, when Ishmael was sent by his mysterious and secretive employers, The Organization, to look into the eerie and uncanny goings on at the country house where Penny lived with her parents. Penny was the sole survivor of that investigation.
In fact, most of Ishmael and Penny’s investigations turn out that way, the way that Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None turned out. Ishmael and Penny manage to walk away, but seldom do many – or sometimes any – of the people they are sent in to save. Even though they always manage to solve the original mystery.
Ishmael is starting to get a bit of survivor’s guilt over that fact.
But this story is a bit off of Ishmael and Penny’s beaten path, as they are sent in to secure a hole in the side of a hill in a seriously remote bit of countryside. No country houses in sight. Just a hole that swallows up everything that gets a bit too close – including one of the archaeologists that found it in the first place.
The Organization has sent a team of crackerjack scientists to investigate the unnatural hole, and sent Ishmael and Penny to keep the scientists safe while they investigate. When they arrive, both Ishmael and Penny believe that they are there to keep the scientists safe from the hole, and the hole safe from the scientists – along with anyone else who might happen to wander by.
It doesn’t take long for both of them to figure out that their real job is keeping the scientists safe from themselves – and each other.
Escape Rating B+: This was the right book at the right time, and not just for its surprising resemblance to The Scavenger Door. After yesterday’s terrific book, I was looking for something that also had a high snark quotient, and this author has always been good for that, no matter which of his many, many sandboxes he happens to be playing in at the time. And I was looking forward to swiftly sinking into a world that I already knew, and the Ishmael Jones series certainly has that box ticked off as well.
Last but not least, because I love this series and this author, I was hoping that this entry in the series would redeem the previous book, Into the Thinnest of Air, because that one didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But Murder in the Dark, even though it went to a different locale than the series usually does, was just a much better book.
All of the above being said, this is the sixth book in an ongoing series. I’m not certain that you need to have read them ALL to get stuck into this one, but reading at least the series opener, The Dark Side of the Road, would probably help a lot. Also it’s very good if you like creepy country house mysteries with even creepier monsters hiding in the shadows.
There are three mysteries in the dark in this story. One is the mystery that brings Ishmael and Penny into the picture, the mystery of the mystery of the unnatural hole. Who or what created it? What is it? Where does it go? What is its purpose?
The second mystery seems like it’s part of the first, at least at first. Who or what is killing the scientists?
And then there’s that third mystery, the one that lies behind the entire series. Who was Ishmael Jones before he became Ishmael Jones? Where did he come from? Why was he near Earth? How did he crash?
Ishmael has learned very few answers to those questions about himself. But he has learned that he really doesn’t want to know. Whoever he was and wherever he came from, right here and right now he’s exactly where he belongs, with Penny.
What’s surprising about those three mysteries is that they are not neatly tied up with a single bow. Rather, they are individually tied with separate bows, no matter how much someone tries to make it seem like the hole is responsible for the murders, possibly via the agency of someone who is a blast from Ishmael’s unremembered past.
The thing that makes this series work is that in spite of any supernatural or extraterrestrial red herrings that may appear while Ishmael and Penny are desperately trying to figure out who’s bumping off the people they’re supposed to save, the reality turns out to be that the biggest, baddest and deadliest monsters in any setting are human. The evil that people are capable of doing to each other is much, much scarier than any mythical beast or raygun toting alien. That in the end the most horrible monsters are just people doing bad things because they’re selfish and greedy. And it’s that grounding in human monsters and human evil that keep the whole thing from flying over the top, jumping the shark, and landing in a cesspit full of slime monsters.
This is a series that when I’m in the mood for it, I’m really in the mood for it and nothing else will do. So I’ll be back with Ishamel Jones and Penny Belcourt in Till Sudden Death Do Us Part the next time I need a story with the creep factor on high and the snark turned up to eleven.