After last week, I ended up discussing When the Stars Go Dark with a number of people, and while I didn’t change my mind about its shortcomings (for me), I did come across a term that I wouldn’t have necessarily applied to this book, but it turns out it was a perfect fit. Lady Tessa over at Tessa Talks Books (which is bloody brilliant), called it an Atmospheric Mystery, which was not a term that I had thought to use before to describe the sort of slow-building, creepy, unnerving, confusing, ‘I think the man in the hat did something terrible’ books that I am generally not a big fan of. I…again, generally, like books where things HAPPEN, where police, or, preferably, smart-assed PIs, look for clues, and chase things, on foot or in cars, and shoot at things, and blow things up. I like my peril a little more straightforward, and I like my narratives fast and linear.
It’s ironic, then that the book I was given when I consulted my friendly “when is my next library book due” psychic was also an atmospheric mystery. Universe, amirite?
I liked this one a lot better though.
Young Saffyre Maddox spent three years under the care of renowned child psychologist Roan Fours. When Dr. Fours decides their sessions should end, Saffyre feels abandoned. She begins looking for ways to connect with him, from waiting outside his office to walking through his neighborhood late at night. She soon learns more than she ever wanted to about Roan and his deceptively perfect family life. On a chilly Valentine’s night, Saffyre will disappear, taking any secrets she has learned with her.
Owen Pick’s life is falling apart. In his thirties and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct—accusations he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel forums, where he meets a charismatic and mysterious figure.
Owen lives across the street from the Fours family. The Fours have a bad feeling about their neighbor; Owen is a bit creepy and suspect and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night. Could Owen be responsible? What happened to the beautiful missing Saffyre, and does her disappearance truly connect them all?
So, what set this one apart? Jewell managed to create characters that I cared about. Roan may not have been the most sympathetic character, and his daughter, Georgia, was barely a character at all, but his wife, Cate, and son, Josh, jumped off the page and I truly cared what happened to them.
Saffyre was also a broken, vengeful, complicated, kind, loving girl, and I kind of needed her to not be dead, to get a chance to be whole and healed and to see her kitten again.
And then we have our man in the hat, who may have done something terrible. Or may not have. Owen Pick is that favorite plot device of mine, the unreliable narrator. He is accused of doing unspeakable things, which he doesn’t think he’s done…but really, even he isn’t sure.
Like When the Stars Go Dark, the book started slow, but I didn’t mind as much because I was immediately invested in the characters. Then, like many of these books, the last 30% flew by.
I won’t tell you if I got the ending I wanted, cause, you know, spoilers, but I was largely satisfied in the way that things ended up being resolved. Largely.