Sunday, February 05, 2017

San Francisco Police Suspense from Jonathan Moore, THE DARK ROOM

A couple of weeks ago, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released Jonathan Moore's newest crime novel, THE DARK ROOM; there should still be plenty of time to collect a first printing of this powerful and intricately plotted investigation. Moore's third book, The Poison Artist, is also set in San Francisco, that city of fog and back alleys that forms such a powerful backdrop for pain and loss.  In Moore's hands, the city itself is an enabling force -- one that investigators must confront.

In THE DARK ROOM, we meet Gavin Cain, an SFPD homicide investigator. He's in the midst of witnessing an exhumation when a phone call drags him away at top speed: The city's mayor is being blackmailed about what looks like violent and sadistic sex games from his past. And Cain's task is to stop the possible release of dirty information about the mayor, as well as protecting him and his family -- against a very angry blackmailer with a ticking clock.

Complicating the investigation, for Cain, are threads that lead from it toward his own secret: He's become the committed lover of a former crime victim, whose chance at resuming normal life depends on his ability to protect her from further threats. Soon the cases inevitably cross, and the tension ramps up exponentially.

Despite the emotional risks involved, Cain's investigation is at heart a skilled and multipronged one, so that THE DARK ROOM is also an adept police procedural. Here's Cain thinking things through and prioritizing:
Cain stopped at a light on Santa Cruz Avenue, put his phone on his knee, and began to dictate a note to himself. This didn't require any real precision. He just spoke in a free flow of thoughts.

Thrallinex. Benzyldiomide.

Redding thought the drug was the key, and he might be right. In an hour, the ME could tell Cain how it compared to a hypnotic like Rohypnol, what a dozen pills would have done to the girl. Then there was the dress. When it came to high-end fashion, he had no idea where to begin. He'd been wearing the same suit three days running, and knew switching ties and shirts wasn't fooling anyone. But every problem had an entrance. Maybe a clerk in one of the shops around Union Square could poin him in the right direction.

The '84 Cadillac Eldorado was something he might be able to work with, though. No one had to register a dress. Pills got passed from hand to hand. But cops know how to find cars.
It's clear that the city's mayor has a dark past that's made him vulnerable. But it's the present that matters most, and Cain's hampered by the mayor's refusal to open up -- and tangled in the dodgy information that the mayor's family ekes out to him.

Intense pace, taut plotting, an investigator who gambles his own life to save others -- it all adds up to one heck of a good thriller, with a highly satisfying ending. Count this as a little darker than Michael Connelly in terms of plot, and a bit less dark in terms of how haunted the investigator is, but with the same gift of compelling storytelling and, of course, overlapping terrain.

Finally, there's a note from the author that makes it clear THE DARK ROOM is effectively the prequel to another book that Jonathan Moore had already written, called The Night Market. Its publication will follow this one (scheduled for January 2018). Count me among the people who will be preordering a copy.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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