Emma Haughton (emmahaughton.com)
Hodder & Stoughton (hodder.co.uk)
Doctor Kate North is a last minute addition to the crew of the United Nations Antarctica station following the untimely death of their original medic. It’s a last-ditch attempt to get her life back on track following a horrible car accident and the discovery that her fiancé has been seeing someone else. This stint in Antarctica will keep her isolated from the rest of the world – along with a dozen other researchers – over the course of a long, dark Antarctic winter; it’s a chance to break her addiction to painkillers and get her head straight. But when one of her colleagues is found dead on the ice, without any of the protective gear that has become like a second skin for Kate and her colleagues, Kate finds herself rubbing everyone else up the wrong way, as she tries to get to the bottom of what happened to her predecessor, and this new victim, and whether their deaths are in any way connected.
As The Dark opens, the author tries to give us some measure of Kate North, as she flies across the icy wastes of Antarctica, towards the remote research station that will be her home for the next year. She’s afraid, unsure that she has made the right decision. She’s obviously dealing with some weighty personal issues, and is still trying to get to grips with a very visible reminder: an ugly scar on her cheek. She carries with her a vitamin bottle filled with super-strength painkillers and a voice that constantly reminds her that this is the perfect opportunity to wean herself off them, though, as the station doctor, she has unprecedented access to all the drugs she could ever want. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to know that this is going to be an extremely tough battle.
There are twelve other people on the station, some of whom take to the newcomer right away, while a small minority seem to be actively hostile from the outset. When Kate finds messages that her predecessor has hidden in her office, she starts to question the circumstances of his death: was it really an accident, or could it have been an act of sabotage? If the latter, who might be responsible and, more importantly, what motive might they have had to kill such a well-liked member of the team? As the novel progresses, and the never ending darkness of Antarctic winter closes in, the inhabitants of UNA start to form natural cliques and life develops a natural rhythm that will ultimately see them through until daylight returns. When one of the crew is found dead on the ice in clothes better-suited to the beach, everyone becomes suspicious of everyone else, and Kate realises that her less-than-subtle enquiries into the death of Dr Jean-Luc Bernas might have been the catalyst for this new wave of violence.
Emma Haughton’s crime debut cuts right to the chase, throwing Kate – and the reader – straight into one of the least hospitable places on the planet. We get a sense of the immense cold and of the cramped quarters that these crewmates share. Through Kate’s fear of the dark, we find ourselves in an inhospitable environment where nothing – and no-one – can be trusted. There are mysteries within mysteries here and, while some have slightly more obvious solutions than others, Haughton’s writing, and the characters who populate this cold, dark world, keep us interested in what’s going on throughout.
The Dark is an intense thriller driven by the characters who inhabit it. Haughton invests it with an excellent sense of place, and uses the location as an ever-present adversary which serves to increase tension in the ongoing mysteries. It’s an excellent read for the coming autumn and the rapidly-closing nights, and is a must-read for anyone who enjoys their thrillers dark and gritty.