Number two of my Karen Rose twofer for this month (I started this in June so I’m backdating it in my head), which is good because these bloody things take forever to write. Beware: Here There Be Spoilers.
What is it?
Edge of Darkness is the fourth novel in Rose’s Cincinnati series, and picks up a loose thread from Books 2 and 3, which featured a human trafficking ring. Mallory, one of the trafficking victims in Book 3, recalled at one point calling the police to report her abuse, only for the responding officer to be allowed to rape her in exchange for his silence. Although the main villain of Book 3 was killed, the cop who raped Mallory was never exposed.
Who’s in it?
In my review of Monster in the Closet, I mentioned one of Rose’s characters joking that she needed a spreadsheet to keep track of the Baltimore circle. Well, the Cincinnati circle is even larger, so large in fact that some characters in it only manage cameo appearances in Edge of Darkness. This time, the male and female main characters are Cincinnati Police detective Adam Kimble and child psychologist Meredith Fallon, both of whom have appeared in some of Rose’s previous novels, and whose romance has been set up since Book 1 of the Cincinnati series. Adam’s FBI agent cousin Deacon Novak also features, so does his new partner FBI agent Trip Johnson, and Rose focusses rather more on his boss Lynda Isenberg than she’s focussed on senior officers before.
Since Mallory was rescued from child sex slavery in Book 3, Meredith has been working with her as her therapist. She takes Mallory out to a restaurant to celebrate Mallory’s signing up for Further Ed classes, only to be approached by a young man in a bomb vest, who is shot when he refuses to detonate the vest.
Adam leads the investigation and initially believes Meredith to have been the target because of her work with victims of child abuse – and because an initial investigation of Mallory’s claims to have been raped by a police officer uncovered no evidence that she’d ever called the police. It’s only after further attempts are made, on both his life and on Mallory’s, that he realises that the strings are being pulled by someone within the Cincinnati Police Department.
What I liked.
Who needs nails, anyway?
It’s another typically tense offering from Rose, and it’s as well-written as I’ve come to expect from her. She kicks off with a strong hook, the abduction of Andy, a young man forced to do something terrible by sexual violence against Linnea, the woman he loves; sometimes Rose’s opens are set-ups for later in the story, but this one pays off straight away, and the story takes off in an interestingly different direction from my initial expectations. Andy is forced into an assassination attempt, and is killed when he refuses to comply. Linnea is then able to escape her captor and, believing that her HIV-positive status means that she will soon die, decides to try and take him with her.
Having expected Rose to tie up the loose ends from Every Dark Corner, the third Cincinnati book, I never really believed the misdirection that Meredith, rather than Mallory, was the target. The cop who’d raped her in exchange for his silence had never been exposed, so I knew that Rose would return to the story at some point. However, this didn’t really matter – partly because the suspect in the misdirect, Broderick Voss, also ties back to the main character, but also because Rose uses the time she buys for characters intelligently. Adam gets a chance to bond with his new partner, FBI Agent Trip Johnson, and it allows his relationship with Meredith to develop in a way that feels natural. In my review of Monster in the Closet I explained why I won’t touch on the romance elements of Rose’s novels too much (basically, I don’t know the genre at all so I can’t fairly critique that aspect of her writing), but I will say that I liked the development of the romance between Adam and Meredith. It felt natural and real.
It’s over halfway through the novel before Adam and his team realise that Mallory was the real target, but the pace never slackens, and there are twists aplenty, especially surrounding Adam and his own ties to the killer.
Rose writes some very good male characters, but Adam Kimble is one of my favourites, because he’s so flawed and vulnerable, for so many good reasons. What I liked most of all were his mental health issues – with all the stigma surrounding it, more authors need to represent mental health in a normalising way. Without knowing too much about PTSD I can’t say how well Rose has depicted it here, beyond saying that it felt real to me, and I cared about Adam and his struggles to deal with it.
He’s a complex, layered character, with an awful lot of backstory to feed into his demons. His father Jim, another police officer, plays a big part in this. Adam initially tries to deal with PTSD through self-medication, which is to say alcohol, taking mental health leave when he realises that he’s on a self-destructive spiral. It’s not actually possible for Adam to win Jim’s approval and never has been, which only makes his demons worse, but he’s a fundamentally good person who’s been trying hard to make amends for the hurt he caused people when he was drunk. Alcoholism, PTSD and depression are major issues that police officers struggle with, but if mental health is heavily stigmatised in society it’s even more stigmatised in the police, where traditional masculinity is highly prized (and alcoholism is sometimes seen as a valid, if not the only valid, way to respond to other mental health issues). Rose uses Adam to explore these in a sensitive way, and it’s good to them portrayed.
I also liked his response to his feelings for Meredith, in that he doesn’t want to follow through on their mutual attraction until he’s sure he’s sober. Partially, to be fair, this is a result of manipulation by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who’s working for main villain Wyatt, but it also feels like an authentic response from a man who worries about the impact he’ll have on others – especially a woman he’s deeply in love with. Adam’s self-aware streak helps turn him from a classic thriller bit-of-a-twat protagonist into an actually likeable protagonist, one that I found more relatable. I felt like I went with Adam on his journey as he decides what to tell Meredith and when, and as he tells his superior and friends about his alcohol issues, and that’s what you want with a great character.
Meredith is active in the investigation.
Rose never, ever writes shrinking violets as female leads, but it would have been an easy trap to fall into for Meredith’s role to have been only as a witness – an important witness with lots of information, but still playing a largely passive role in the story. It’s one of my few complaints about Alex Fallon’s character in Rose’s earlier novel Scream For Me, which is to be clear one of my all-time favourites of hers; Alex (who is actually Meredith’s cousin) has lots of crucial information that male main character and lead investigator Daniel needs, but she herself does relatively little.
In this case, Rose dodges this entirely, especially at the end of the story as Meredith really comes into her own, actively tracking down the corrupt social worker from Indiana who sold Linnea out to Wyatt Hanson and uncovering crucial information that Adam needs to build his case against Wyatt. She also elicits information from a traumatised child witness earlier in the story. She’s physically brave as well, intervening to stop Mallory from being kidnapped at one point and putting up a tough fight against Wyatt at the end. Meredith deserves, and has earnt previously, her very active role, and it’s good to see Rose staying faithful to the character she’s created previously and not taking the easier route.
While I’m talking about Meredith, Rose again uses her as a chance to explore mental health issues, in Meredith’s case depression and occasional self-harm. Meredith has always been successful, from an early age, and Rose explores the toll it’s taken on her – the loneliness she’s felt and her drive to compete. In Scream For Me Alex Fallon credits Meredith with preventing her from successfully committing suicide as a teenager; in Edge of Darkness we learn that Meredith had suicidal thoughts herself and saw the fact that she hadn’t acted on them as proof that she was better than Alex – feelings that she later regretted, and which Alex never reciprocated. Her depression also indirectly led to the death of her parents in a plane crash. Again, this is presented in a normalising way, as something for Meredith to overcome and part of the demons that we all carry with us. It doesn’t make her a freak, it doesn’t make her a fragile flower who needs to be handled with kid gloves, and it’s a good picture of mental health.
Wyatt as the villain.
The villains in Rose’s novels are usually tied to the main characters in some way, and sometimes that can feel a little forced. In this case, though, it doesn’t at all – Rose, through Adam’s perspective, sets up Wyatt as a close childhood friend, but then shows how Wyatt has actually been trying to undermine Adam for a long time. It started out as intense jealousy, but gradually as Wyatt’s criminal career took off, he began to see Adam as his arch-enemy.
I praised Rose’s depiction of Gage Jarvis in Monster in the Closet for being a more sympathetic villain than she usually writes. Wyatt, on the other hand, is completely and utterly unsympathetic, but I’m ok with this, I don’t think it detracts at all. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and although a lot of good villains are sympathetic, they don’t have to be. Wyatt’s behaviour is narcissistic and psychopathic, and he knows that his behaviour is, to put it mildly, extremely immoral. He doesn’t care, his goal is to make as much money from his various rackets as possible whilst avoiding capture, and he does that. Rose writes him as the hero of his own story, even though he and his story are utterly reprehensible – and that’s not easy to do.
Like a lot of her villains, Wyatt is full-on chaotic evil, not especially caring how much collateral damage he inflicts. At one point he burns a family of four alive in their home in order to delay Adam’s investigation into Andy Gold by a few hours (the deaths are accidental in that Wyatt thought the family would survive, but he didn’t care much either way). The stakes are raised, we know his capacity for evil and violence early on, and it makes it that much more satisfying when Adam and Meredith finally overcome him.
All this is good, Wyatt is a scary villain who we’re invested in seeing get brought down, but his tangled relationship with Adam I really liked, because it rang true to me; Wyatt, extremely narcissistic, can’t stand Adam’s apparent successes. When they work for the Personal Crimes Division and Adam gets praised by their boss for solving a major case, Wyatt arranges for a child to be murdered in order to bring him down. But, as Adam’s cousin Deacon observes, Wyatt has spent more time thinking about Adam than Adam has about him – Wyatt thinks that Adam can identify him as the cop who raped Mallory, because Mallory could describe a scar on Wyatt’s chest that Adam had forgotten Wyatt had. But, like so many people with narcissistic traits, Wyatt expects people to remember him far better than they actually do. His connection to, and loathing for, Adam feels authentic and organic, and I felt for Adam when he realised who was behind the murders he was investigating.
Not all villains have to be sympathetic for a reader to be invested in them, and in Wyatt’s case, you’re invested right from the start in seeing him defeated.
So I complained in my Monster in the Closet review about the lack of diversity. It’s only fair then that, praise where it’s due, I praise it up here because there’s a lot more of it here. Rose has people the Cincinnati series with people of colour and LGBTQI+ characters, but better still she’s presented them in non-stereotypical ways – and shows diversity in her background cast, with a Cincinnati cop with an Asian name making an appearance. I especially liked her portrayal of Kendra Cullen – she shows fierce loyalty to Meredith, but never slips into being a loud sassy black woman stereotype. I’d like more Kendra in the novels to come. Rose is a very pro-police author, but tactfully and sympathetically acknowledges the difficulties between African-Americans and the police when Trip Johnson, Adam’s partner, sarcastically remarks that it’s ironic that being black saved him from being investigated as Mallory’s (white) rapist.
Rose has also started to be much more comfortable writing gay characters, and again they’re presented non-stereotypically. They don’t mince, they aren’t sex-mad, and FBI agent Luther Troy is tough, refusing to acknowledge how badly he’s been wounded in a shooting so people won’t fuss (ok, so that’s also dumb). Troy is another character I hope we see more of; his description of how he felt having been gay-bashed in a small town as a teenager, having to walk past the site of his attack and see his attackers, hit home. I don’t do enough LGBTQI+ representation in my own writing, so praise where it’s due. There’s a good balance of diversity in the Cincinnati circle now, and Rose represents her gay and POC characters every bit as well as her characters with mental health issues.
The portrayal of Jim Kimble and Dale Hanson.
Jim Kimble is a Real ManTM, and Dale Hanson is his enabler. As I said, Rose is very pro-police, but she’s explored the issue of toxic masculinity within the police before and hasn’t shied away from confronting the fact that a frighteningly high proportion of male police officers are accused of domestic violence, but in Edge of Darkness we get a different look at this. Fans of Rose already know that Jim Kimble is a manipulative and controlling man from Closer Than You Think, but what was interesting here was his scorn for Adam, his son. It is strongly implied that Jim’s an alcoholic himself, but he still views Adam’s alcoholism as a personal failure, because whilst Jim is a functioning alcoholic, Adam is most definitely not. In fact, not only is Adam a failure as an alcoholic, in Jim’s eyes he fails as a man as well by taking mental health leave to cope with his problems, instead of, in Jim’s words, ‘Sucking it up.’
To Jim, alcoholism is the only acceptable way to deal with aftereffects of trauma because it’s manly. This view isn’t as prevalent in the police as it was when Jim walked his beat in the 80s, but it’s still believed by many officers, so it’s good to see Rose condemn it so explicitly here. In fact, it’s a refreshing change to see two old cops talking about the Old Days without the audience being expected to get its rose-tinted specs on. Jim was a sloppy, unprofessional cop who didn’t secure his patrol car properly and lied to an internal inquiry. Rose doesn’t give us any nostalgia for the days when the police were Proper Cops and Real Men – Jim’s approach is compared to Adam’s and found clearly lacking.
Dale, Jim’s old partner and Wyatt’s adoptive father, is also shown in a rather negative light. He knows how bad Jim is, but enables him by trying to paper over the cracks that Jim causes. He talks about knowing how bad things are for Adam at home so he provides a safe haven for Adam and his cousins, who live with the Kimbles – but he never challenges Jim’s behaviour or calls him out on it. Rose leaves it ambiguous whether or not Jim is ever violent towards his wife (although the behaviour he does exhibit towards his wife has recently been criminalised in the UK), but if anyone would know, it would be Dale.
This is important, because men like Jim rely on the silence of men like Dale. Men who convince themselves that it’s really not that bad, that what they’re seeing isn’t what they’re seeing. That the behaviour of men like Jim Kimble is actually acceptable. It’s a neat little commentary on domestic abuse and the men who perpetrate and perpetuate it, and it’s a good condemnation of toxic masculinity. Especially when Jim is juxtaposed against his son Adam, who exhibits as much positive masculinity as Jim exhibits negative masculinity.
What I had problems with.
Usual disclaimers here – procedural niggles are fun to spot but if they spoil your enjoyment then you’re reading the piece wrong, and I don’t know American police procedure well enough to comment on how well Rose represents it.
Actually, Rose’s characters generally behave very sensibly, taking police protection when they realise they’re being threatened. The issue Rose, and every other crime and horror writer, has is that sensible, in literary terms, is often boring.
I picked up on this in my Monster in the Closet review, but Rose’s format means that the main characters confront the killer together. This often means that she has to find a plausible-seeming reason for the SWAT team not to be present (like every other crime writer ever, I should add – I too have had senior experienced detectives doing something they’d never really do in a confrontation scene, because Plausible-Sounding Reason). In this case, there’s actually a good reason for Adam to be confronting Wyatt alone at first; he came across Wyatt unexpectedly, and when he realised where Wyatt was and that he had Meredith, only his boss Lieutenant Isenberg was with him.
But then Deacon and Trip arrive… and they don’t bring a SWAT team. We know there’s one nearby, Adam just deployed it to raid Wyatt’s house. Where are they when the confrontation goes down?
Actually, the confrontation between Meredith, Adam and Wyatt is super-tense and brutal, and so fast-paced that I only noticed that when I thought about it for this review. A better point to make is Adam having Meredith moved away from his raid on Wyatt’s house by only one detective – now, admittedly, he’s using this as a way of showing the detective, Wyatt’s partner, that he trusts him, but… Wyatt’s out there and you know you’ve probably missed him by minutes at his house. Yeah, it sets up the super-tense, fast-paced, brutal finale, but… have six cops take Meredith away and show Wyatt’s partner that you trust him later, Adam!
Wyatt Hanson is one bad apple.
As much as I like Wyatt’s depiction as a villain, I have an issue with the fact that he appears to have been working alone within the Cincinnati PD. I did my dissertation on police corruption in the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard to Americans) in the 1970s, and one thing I learnt very rapidly was that it’s never rotten apples, it’s rotten barrels if not rotten orchards. Rotten apples do exist (British Professional Standards Departments actually usually refer to them as Lone Rangers), but Wyatt is running a full-on criminal enterprise worth millions from within the police department – he would far more likely be the leader of a cell of corrupt officers, and higher-ranking officers would either be in on it, or be turning a blind eye.
I think Rose actually knows this – two of the Baltimore series novels featured a network of corrupt officers in the Baltimore police department in the Homicide, Robbery and Internal Affairs divisions, but also featured corrupt prosecutors and defence lawyers. The potential role of corrupt lawyers, on both sides, in major corruption cases is never adequately explored in real life, so for Rose to include them shows a good understanding of how corruption scandals develop. I’ve mentioned before that Rose is a very pro-police author, so maybe one (very) bad apple was as much as she wanted to do this time, but she’s also not shy about representing flaws within the police like the prevalence of toxic masculinity, so I’d’ve liked some hints at a wider problem with the Cincinnati police even if she didn’t plan on revisiting it.
One of the pitfalls of having two main characters is that you have to head-hop between them. Rose usually uses this positively to provide a more holistic view of the story, and her characters are very strongly written and satisfyingly complex – so much so that it would limit her if she stuck to one or the other.
Sometimes, though, she’ll shift perspective from one main character to another in the middle of a scene and I find it a bit jarring – it takes me out of the moment a little. There’s a couple of instances of that in Edge of Darkness, when Meredith and Adam are in the penthouse that doubles as Meredith’s safehouse and their romance starts to bloom – Rose switches from one to other without much of a pause in the action. I’m guessing this is so that we can see their feelings develop on both sides of the relationship, but my personal preference would be for Rose to pick and stick to one character for one scene.
You’ll like this if…
…you like suspense novels and don’t really like sleeping. You like thrillers that go to very dark places and tug on your heartstrings at the same time. And for me, without really knowing what one looks like, this is a good romance novel too, so if you like romance.
If you’ve enjoyed this review, please check out some of the others, or, alternatively, some of the crime-related blog posts. Or maybe even some of my own short stories. Shameless plugs below…
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