(Myrmidon Books, 2012); pbk, £7.99
Being a crime-fiction writer cannot be an easy job, trying to distinguish your work from so many others in an already crowded market. This pressure, coupled with the glut of crime shows like CSI or Criminal Minds that appear on television on a nightly basis, must make distinctiveness hard to come by. It is for this reason that I can’t help but have a little sympathy for Craig Smith’sEvery Dark Place, a crime novel that to my mind lacks originality and which relies on old formulaic twists and turns that most crime fans have read a thousand times before.
The plot revolves around a private investigator working for the prosecutor, Jack Trueblood (a name that seems to have been given to the protagonist without the slightest hint of irony) as he hunts for evidence to send a recently released vicious killer, Will Booker, back to prison. Trueblood is the archetypal “troubled-cop-with-a-drinking-problem” who seems to have fallen out of the pages of a 1930s Raymond Chandler novel directly into a modern day setting. With a penchant for bourbon and women, and sporting a troubled past, this “maverick” cop is a curiously anachronistic figure. But then again, the whole of Shiloh Springs, the book’s location, feels like a strange pastiche of crime novels from the past. Locations such as the 1980s-style biker’s bar seem to be an attempt at gritty realism; the governor’s mansion that is inadvertently parodic is reminiscent of a sixties episode of Batman; the lengthy and elegant descriptions of the countryside feel as if they are from another novel altogether and serve to make the various locations in Smith’s world seem disconnected and jarringly inconsistent. Instead of creating a living, breathing city, Smith’s version of Shiloh Springs morphs itself to suit the plodding, clichéd narrative.
In Every Dark Place, Smith has written a stereotypical story, filled with stock characters in a stock world. At no point is any attempt made to create an original plot device or narrative style.. All the standard elements are there in the book, from the “this-time-it’s-personal” backstory to the killer with a religious obsession. However, Smith’s novel is not an entirely bad book – the ending contains a genuinely compelling debate on the death penalty and Smith’s pared down descriptions to suggest the dulled mind of a killer is a good idea – but without much distinctiveness, Smith’s competent and occasionally effective writing style feels undermined, trapped in generic storytelling. In an already crowded marketplace for crime, In Every Dark Place simply fails to stand out from other crime fiction.