4 stars,  crime,  detective,  mystery

Review: ‘The Gift of Darkness’ by V. M. Giambanco

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Twenty-five years ago in the woods near the Hoh River in Seattle, three boys were kidnapped. One did not come home.

A quarter of a decade later, a family of four is found brutally murdered, the words thirteen days scratched near their lifeless bodies.

Homicide Detective Alice Madison ran away from home as a child, one breath away from committing an unforgivable act; as an adult, she found her peace chasing the very worst humanity has to offer. Madison believes these murders are linked. And she has thirteen days to prove it.

To stop a psychopath, Madison must go back into the woods and confront the unsolved mystery of the Hoh River Boys. She must forget her training and follow her instincts to the terrifying end as enemies become allies and, in the silent forest, time is running out to save another life.


I seem to be making a habit of this crime-fiction-reading malarkey!  This time it was to branch fully out into serial killers, grim descriptions of the murder of a whole family and a glimpse into the inner workings of a psycopath’s mind.  The Gift of Darkness follows Detective Alice Madison and her colleagues as they investigate the murder of a local tax lawyer along with his wife and two young children.  The early parts of the book are pretty full on: there’s very little held back when the detectives are at the crime scene and I was a little bit sceptical about whether or not I’d make it to the end without giving myself horrendous nightmares.

After the initial wave of detail, though, matters move more from the gross to the sinister and, I’ll admit, the downright creepy.  You know in films where there are those *horrible* moments where you’re screaming at the detectives because there’s a killer RIGHT NEAR THEM and they just can’t see them?  I *hate* those moments (even while I love them a little bit).  This story is full of moments like that where the tension ratchets up ridiculously high and I spent a good few mornings and evenings having those “Must. Keep. Reading” moments, gawping at the pages with wide eyes.  Whatever The Gift of Darkness may or may not be, it is definitely a page-turner.  And if you read this at a time/place when unexpected loud noises are likely, you’ll probably have a heart attack.  Just saying.

Without a doubt my favourite thing about The Gift of Darkness was how its blurring of the lines between the “good” characters and the “bad” characters.  Madison is a pretty hard character to get behind because she’s quite detached.  I actually quite liked that about her – she isn’t made out to be a hero just because she’s a woman doing a traditionally masculine job and she isn’t super feminine just to make a point.  She’s just a professional woman going about her job and I felt kind of respectful of her even while I was a little bit neutral.  It’s the ‘bad’ characters that Giambanco excels at writing.  If an author can make me have even one  moment where I have to check myself for starting to sympathise with a serial killer, it would take something pretty catastrophic to sway me away from admiring it.  As always with novels with any kind of twists, it’s hard to tell you much more without giving too much away but be prepared to shift your perspective a few times.  In a good way.

My only gripe with The Gift of Darkness was that the writing style wasn’t always one that I found particularly comfortable to read.  Not in terms of subject matter (my hopelessness at reading anything even remotely gory being well-documented enough), but in terms of style.  The whole story is told in the third person and moves between a few characters.  I don’t have a problem with books written in the third person but there were a few moments where the writing was a bit disjointed.  And there was something…awkward about some of the dialogue.  Maybe I talk in a particularly sloppy manner but when two characters are talking informally, there’s something jarring about them doing so in “proper” English.  There’s a point in the book, for example, where one person is asking another about how well they knew someone and their response is, “We did not go out for food and beer”.  There are quite a few instances like that and every time it pulled me out of what was going on and had me repeating the phrases in my head to try to get them to sound right.  But maybe that’s just me.

Let’s end on a health warning: if you’re wary of blood and gore and the like, you probably won’t be a fan.  Think more CSI Las Vegas than Miss Marple.

Overall:  A clever variation on the good guy v. bad guy theme with more than enough to keep both hardened and fledgling crime fiction fans flipping pages.  With the lights on.  Obviously…

Date finished:  03 April 2013
Format:  Paperback (ARC)
Source:  Received via The Book Depository’s Affiliates scheme in exchange for an honest review
Genre:  Crime fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Quercus Publishing Plc in June 2013

The Gift of Darkness is due for release on 6th June 2013 – you can pre-order a copy at The Book Depository HERE