Monday, February 12, 2024

Book Review: Village in the Dark

By Jami Denison

Last year, when I reviewed Iris Yamashita’s debut mystery, City Under One Roof (reviewed here), I noted that she had enough material with her setting and characters to develop a series. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because Yamashita’s sophomore effort, Village in the Dark, picks up where City left off.  Focusing on a few new characters, Yamashita continues the story of police detective Cara Kennedy and reveals the true fate of her husband and son, providing an emotionally satisfying conclusion for readers of the first book. 

Having been tipped off that their deaths hadn’t been due to natural causes after all, Cara has the bodies of her husband and son exhumed. Meanwhile, Ellie, who rents out several units in the only building in   Point Mettier, Alaska, is grieved by the death of her estranged adult son, Timmy—seemingly of a drug overdose. When Cara finds pictures of her son and husband as well as Timmy and other missing people on a phone belonging to a gang member, she’s convinced there’s a plot that ties all these deaths together. Ellie teams up with Timmy’s father—her ex-husband, former bank robber Shane—to learn the truth, while Cara continues her relationship with police officer J.B. and digs into her husband’s work life to find out what really happened. A third character, Mia, an Alaskan Native who grew up on a women’s collective, knows the truth about what happened to Cara’s family, and she’s on the run as a result. 

City had two (third person) point-of-view characters that are barely mentioned here: teenage Amy, the daughter of the woman running the Chinese restaurant, and Lonnie, daughter of the police chief. I liked these characters and missed their inclusion, although Ellie and Mia were strong additions to the population. Yamashita broadened the geography of the story as well, bringing it out of the condo building that gave City its wonderfully creepy claustrophobic feel. 

Yamashita continues to struggle with a consistent tone, especially in scenes starring Ellie, who comes across as comic relief even in scenes that should be dramatic. The gang members continue to be the bad guys, and early on, Cara commits the head-scratching error of taking Ellie to confront them about the photos on the phone. As a police detective, Cara’s decision to walk into this lair without official backup, especially after the confrontation that ended the first book, makes her seem incompetent, and Ellie’s jokes make the scene even more implausible. Similarly, the reveal about the conspiracy that drove the mystery defied logic. 

Still, Alaska’s challenging weather, sprawling geography, rugged terrain, and tenacious people make the state an ideal location for a mystery, and Yamashita’s work brings out all these characteristics. With Detective Cara Kennedy’s tragic backstory seemingly resolved, it might be a good time to return to the inherent quirkiness of Point Mettier and her city under one roof. 

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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