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  • Writer's pictureAshley Mongrain

A Dark and Secret Place

Updated: Jul 16, 2021


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐1/2


"When prodigal daughter Heather Evans returns to her family home after her mother's baffling suicide, she makes an alarming discovery--stacks and stacks of carefully preserved letters from notorious serial killer Michael Reave. The "Red Wolf," as he was dubbed by the press, has been in prison for over twenty years, serving a life sentence for the gruesome and ritualistic murders of several women across the country, although he has always protested his innocence. The police have had no reason to listen, yet Heather isn't the only one to have cause to re-examine the murders. The body of a young woman has just been found, dismembered and placed inside a tree, the corpse planted with flowers. Just as the Red Wolf once did.


What did Heather's mother know? Why did she kill herself? And with the monstrous Red Wolf safely locked inside a maximum security prison, who is stalking young women now? Teaming up with DI Ben Parker, Heather hopes to get some answers for herself and for the newest victims of this depraved murderer. Yet to do that, she must speak to Michael Reave herself, and expose herself to truths she may not be ready to face. Something dark is walking in the woods, and it knows her all too well."


 

A Dark and Secret Place is a standalone mystery thriller novel by Jen Williams and is a new release coming out on June 8th.


First and foremost I would like to thank NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books, and Dreamscape Media for sending me a copy to review. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions.


Overall, while this didn't knock it out of the park for me in terms of character and story development, I thought that this was an okay book with an interesting premise. Here are all the reasons why or why not this lived up to my expectations.


Content Warnings: mentions of suicide, animal cruelty, child abuse



Writing/Narrating


I picked up the audiobook for this as that's generally how I like to consume mystery thrillers. I thought that Lorna Bennett did a good job narrating the story as not only did she express the story well, her accent also added another layer as fit its British setting.


My only issue with the audiobook was that the audio sounded very robotic. I would assume that it was because it is an ARC and as such isn't a final copy, but luckily it didn't bother me too much.


I do wish the plot was a bit more quick-paced but other than that I thought that the story was easy to digest.



Plot


With most thriller books, what makes it thrilling is that, for the most part, you are left in the dark as to who the antagonist is. In this case, what thrilled me the most was Michael's storyline and I ended up liking it far more than the copycat killer who is the unknown in the equation. It was interesting getting his POV and learning about what he went through.


A letdown for me though was the logistics of some plot points. Heather finds out that her mom has been communicating with a known serial killer, and she immediately tries to talk to him, which the cops allow her to do. They let her talk to him in the hopes that they get some kind of information out of him, but it really doesn't make any sense for her to do so. She may be a journalist, but she is not equipped to interrogate a serial killer so it made no sense to me that they let her do so.


I also had issues in which the plot advances due to bad decisions on Heather's part. Yes, I realize that the plot has to advance somehow, but I generally don't like when it is due to a lack of thinking. It's little things like these that can make or break a story for me.


Moving forward, I was a bit let down from the final reveals. I thought that the reveal of the copycat killer was going to be more exciting and the story behind what happened to Heather's mother was going to be more twisted. That is my fault though since I had certain expectations as to where the story was going to go and I still think that the author did a good job at establishing a good story and finishing it.


I am still confused though when it comes to the reasons why Reeves and the copycat killer did what they did. A reason is sort of given, but it isn't really explained in enough detail. There were other answers I needed regarding other plot points as well that were left in the open.


Whether it was intentional or not, there were little tidbits in this story that had interesting influences. Of course, the idea of anyone connecting with a serial killer who is incarcerated brings me straight to Silence of the Lambs, and I also caught a moment that was similar to the true crime case of 'who put Bella in the Wych Elm?' I wished elements like these were explored a bit more.



Characters


I am on the fence about how I feel about the characters. I thought that Reeves was an intriguing character and in some way, despite the fact that he is indeed a serial killer, you feel for him because he really went through some stuff in his childhood. I also liked the added element of him dispensing information through the use of fairy tales.


Heather, on the other hand, fell prey to some cliche horror tropes even though at times I thought she was pretty gutsy. By cliche horror tropes I mean announcing yourself out loud and putting a target on your back and brushing things aside as you either seeing things or it being no big deal.


I also found her to be kind of an unreliable narrator, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I find that it is not a character quality that I enjoy. I was also expecting for her character to lean more into the 'unstable' side but it didn't really go that far. In the summary as well, Heather is described as a prodigal daughter, but I didn't get those vibes from her. Overall, Heather wasn't the main character for me.


In terms of other characters, I felt like Ben and Heather's best friend Nikki didn't really add much to the story and could have been left out. I would have been fine if the story just focused on Heather and Reeves. The chapters that included the POVs of victims of the copycat killer also were not needed.



Concluding Thoughts


It was a good idea that was ultimately a bit underwhelming in the end. The direction in which the plot went wasn't as exciting as I thought it was going to be. It just didn't have enough gravitas as a story where a serial killer is known and it a central character.


I think if you like mystery thrillers in general then you probably would like this as well.

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