Reviews

THE DARK CORNERS OF THE NIGHT (Unsub #3), by Meg Gardiner

This is my third foray into Meg Gardiner’s Unsub series, and the one which showcases its constant improvement both story- and character-wise.  My renewed interest in crime fiction can now rely on two excellent authors: Michael Connelly and Meg Gardiner.

In this new case, former detective and now FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix has been called to Los Angeles to investigate a series of brutal home invasions: the unsub (short for Unknown Subject) committing the crimes targets houses where families with children live, viciously kills the parents and terrorizes the children, often leaving crude messages or pictures of eyes on the walls.  The press has taken to call him the Midnight Man, because that’s the hour when he’s liable to strike, when everyone in the house is sleeping and therefore more defenseless.  As both the police and the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit struggle to pinpoint the identity and the personality of the killer – who is extremely careful not to leave clues or recognizable images on surveillance cameras – the Midnight Man makes his first mistake by attacking young Hannah’s house: the girl manages not only to give the alarm and therefore save her parents’ life, she is also able to offer some important information to the investigators, turning into a pivotal witness for law enforcement but also painting a target on her own back because the killer is deadly set in removing the danger, and the intolerable failure, she represents.

The Dark Corners of the Night turned out to be not only the most gripping novel in the series so far, but also one that affected me quite deeply in an unexpected way: while I was reading the book, I was awakened one night by a noise – with all probability one of the not-so-careful people living one floor above moving around with no consideration for  the late hour or their neighbors’ rest. At any other time I might simply have grumbled and tried to go back to sleep, but the power of the story I was reading was such that I had to take a tour of the apartment and check that the door was locked, even though I kept berating myself for such silliness: I’ve read a good number of thrillers, I’ve read horror stories, for pity’s sake, and I’ve never given any though to “monsters” lurking in the dark, but this time I did – that’s the extent of my emotional involvement with this book.

This novel is indeed a compulsive read that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most of the time: the descriptions of the killer’s incursions, the urgent search for any clue or piece of information that might lead to his capture, and the final, adrenaline-infused chase through the city, all combine to create a breathless atmosphere of suspense that will keep you enthralled from start to finish. Even the relatively quieter moments, when details are examined and we are made privy to the intriguing aspects of law enforcement procedures, feel like part of that pressing need to know what motivates this unsub, who he is and what can be done to find and stop his killing spree.  The greater attraction here comes from following the police and FBI’s steps in collating the evidence, slowly but surely piecing together the various elements of the puzzle: as readers we get the same information that law enforcements has and therefore we feel like we’re moving alongside them in this journey, with no privileged outlook that might lead us to get the whole picture before the characters. Plot-wise, this is my preferred method of exploring a story, because I love being surprised and discovering that any hunch I might have had was totally wrong.

Meg Gardiner’s novels don’t rely on plot alone, though, because she always manages to achieve a good balance between that and character development.  Caitlin Hendrix is of course the one under the brighter spotlight, and here we see how the search for the Midnight Man and his elusive trail ends up affecting her: while this book can be read as a stand-alone, it would be better to be aware of Caitlin’s difficult journey and the emotional scars from both her past, and the more recent events, to fully comprehend some of her reactions to the stress of the chase, particularly when she falls back to some compulsive habits that plagued her youth. Since fiction has accustomed us to see law enforcement officers as tough, unyielding individuals, we tend to forget they are human beings as well, and therefore subject to human frailties, which might sometimes reduce their field effectiveness but helps greatly in sympathizing with them and seeing them as people: this is the case with Caitlin’s flaws, which don’t demean her but instead offer a balanced counterpoint to her investigating skills.

Dark Corners also offers an intriguing character study with young Hannah: gifted with great courage and observational skills well beyond her years, she offers the intriguing portrait of a child who goes through some harrowing experiences but has the strength and presence of mind to fight against her fears and offer the police the means to apprehend the killer. I quite enjoyed the interactions between Hannah and Caitlin, with the latter probably seeing in the young girl a mirror of herself, of a victim who refuses to be relegated in that role and acts proactively with every means at her disposal.  On the opposite side of the spectrum there is the Midnight Man: as his profile becomes less hazy and we start to understand what makes him tick and what propelled him toward his killing spree, it’s impossible not to be chilled by the realization that there might be many like him living literally next door, and that it might take only a little shift in their precarious balance to tip them off toward such darkness.

As the novel neared its conclusion I was already mourning the fact that Caitlin’s story seemed to be headed toward a final wrap, because I have been enjoying these novels very much, but I was glad to discover that the final paragraphs hint toward new developments though the possible return of an old adversary, which means that a fourth book might very well be in the works as I write this. If that’s the case I am surely on board for more, and as I wait I can always explore some other works from Meg Gardiner who is – happily for me – a very prolific author.

My Rating:

20 thoughts on “THE DARK CORNERS OF THE NIGHT (Unsub #3), by Meg Gardiner

  1. And your reaction to the noise in the night is my reaction to almost everything after watching a horror movie, which is why I don’t watch them anymore. I’d say this book was a complete success then if it could make you act like that 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The difference between horror and crime/thriller is that I *know* tentacled monsters (just to name an example) don’t exist, so I can appreciate the momentary fright and move on, while I know all too well that human-shaped monsters do exist and that – together with the impressive narrative – colored my reaction. Still, I would not have missed this one for the world… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your reviews of this series are always a pleasure to read, and I was just thinking that I need some good thrillers to read because the one I am currently reading is not working for me and I am so disappointed (but I think that it has more to do with me than with the book: I should accept that psychological thriller are not for me, I am more for a traditional approach!) but now you reminded me of this one!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This trilogy is really good and the author is a skilled writer whose other works I have to explore: I feel confident in recommending these books because they are a good mix of thriller and law enforcement techniques, which for me is a winning combination 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can see why this story got under your skin, it’s a terrifying set up, especially since a child is in the middle of it. I must make a point to read Meg Gardiner at some point!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The premise of this one is chilling, even for someone without kids. But I’m glad to hear how great the read was. I’ve not read anything by the author so I added Unsub to my wish list, as I did The Black Echo because I’ve not read anything by Connelly. Do you have other books by these authors you think would be good starting points?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What I’ve read of Connelly, so far, has proved to be quite good so I can safely say that whatever comes your way will be an intriguing read. As far as Gardiner is concerned I’ve read only her Unsub series, but I’ve seen that she published other books in the genre and I intend to explore them while I wait for the next Unsub novel 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cracking review, Maddalena! There are times that between you and Tammy, I start to think that maybe I should give creepy, horror stories another go – but your anecdote about having to check out noises in the night gave me a reality check:)). Nonetheless, I loved reading about the story – thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This series calls for elevated doses of adrenaline in one’s system, so it must be approached with caution: I love the thrill of the chase, and I’m always fascinated by the details of law enforcement procedures, but this time the story cut a bit too close to home…. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds so scary – and that cover!
    I confess – we’re usually still awake at the midnight hour in this house (reading) so perhaps that’s the bonus of ‘just one more chapter’.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes and no: it can work as a standalone but there are some connections to the MC’s past that might leave you wondering at some of her present actions, but apart from that (and it’s a fairly minor detail), you could read this one without knowledge of the others 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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