Title: Devouring Dark
Author: Alan Baxter
Reviewer: Carleton Chinner
Synopsis: Matt McLeod is a man plagued since childhood by a malevolent darkness that threatens to consume him. Following a lifetime spent wrestling for control over this lethal onslaught, he’s learned to wield his mysterious paranormal skill to achieve an odious goal: retribution as a supernatural vigilante.
When one such hit goes bad, McLeod finds himself ensnared in a multi-tentacled criminal enterprise caught between a corrupt cop and a brutal mobster. His only promise of salvation may be a bewitching young woman who shares his dark talent but has murderous designs of her own.
Review: Alan Baxter’s latest novel is a smart cross-genre crime noir thriller with dark fantasy elements. Set on the gritty streets of London’s less affluent areas, Devouring Dark plays out as a game of cat and mouse between deeply flawed characters. There’s Matt McLeod, the slight Scotsman with a dark past and a gift for delivering supernatural justice to people he thinks deserve it; Charlie Collins the corrupt police detective who tries to piece together what happened to McLeod’s victims, and Vince Stratton the amoral mobster who runs a criminal empire from his cosy pub. The plot’s simmering tension crawls up to a whole new level when McLeod meets Amy Cavendish an Australian palliative care nurse who stores the shadows of the dying to deliver her own brand of vigilante justice. Baxter really shines in bringing these characters to life, filling scenes with gritty, honest dialogue.
Baxter’s London is the grim modern reality of soulless commercial pubs and derelict industrial areas seedy with the neglect of a city gone on to better things. Young men work in dead-end jobs, drinking to excess on weekends to drown out the meaningless nature of their existence. Amy, by comparison, works in the one-size-fits-all world of modern death, trying to bring sense to the degraded lives of the inconveniently dying. The plot weaves these disparate elements together in an elegant whole that kept me reading to the thrilling end. The fantasy element of the literally devouring dark is melded seamlessly into what is already a well put together crime thriller leading to a suitably strange conclusion.
Devouring Dark is based on Baxter’s award-winning short story “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” which is included at the end of the book. The full novel captures the spirit of the short story with great veracity, and while it perhaps does not live up to the deep emotional resonances of the short story still provides moments of stunning clarity. One such line, ‘We are all five years old when our mothers die” speaks to anyone who ever lost a parent while simultaneously casting deep insight into the guilt which consumes busy lives and all too often neglected parents.
I found it hard to put down Devouring Dark, it’s a gritty tale of inner darkness with characters that drag you in and keep you watching open-mouthed as they justify unspeakable acts to appease their own inner demons. I can’t wait to see what Baxter writes next.
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