DARK THINGS I ADORE
Katie Lattari (katielattari.com)
Titan Books (titanbooks.com)
Audra Colfax is an art student at a top Boston school. Young, passionate and very talented, she has caught the attention of esteemed artist and professor, Max Durant, who has taken her under his wing. As she approaches the end of her studies, Audra invites Max to her family home, in the wilds of Northern Maine, an area Max has vague recollections of, having spent some time in the area as a much younger man, at a remote art retreat. The weekend is ostensibly an opportunity for Audra to show her work to her mentor before she must defend her thesis. Max, a man with a reputation when it comes to good-looking students, has his sights on a much bigger prize, something Audra will use to her advantage, because this weekend is about much more than just showing her art to her teacher: this is about something that happened over twenty-five years ago, something that Max believes no-one else could ever know about. Max is dead wrong and, by the end of the weekend, it’s a miscalculation that could well cost him his life.
Katie Lattari’s debut thriller takes us into the world of art and guides as through the story using three distinctive voices over two very different time periods. The first voice we hear is that of Audra Colfax herself. Confident and assured, this is a young woman who knows what she wants, and who will use her intelligence, wit and talent to get there. The second voice takes us back to 1983, to an artists’ retreat located in the woods of Northern Maine, about as far from civilisation as it’s possible to get. This is Juniper – not her real name – and she is our guide to the events of the past. The final voice is that of Max, cocky and entitled, a man who is used to getting his own way, whether it’s in his career, or with the female students in his classes. These three voices show us different sides to the mystery that is unravelling, each voice distinct and recognisable, and each with their own pieces that will eventually be combined to solve the puzzle.
Interspersing these stories and time periods means that we don’t know the full extent of the mystery until Lattari is ready for us to have the information. We know that Audra has an ulterior motive for luring Max to her home and we know that it has something to do with the events of 1983, but beyond that we’re in the dark until the next Juniper chapter, or the one after that, or… The 1983 storyline takes place in Lupine Valley, a place that feels like every summer camp from every horror movie you’ve ever watched. Sure, the people visiting this camp are much older than the teenagers that populate the average slasher flick, but many of the same tropes are in play here – cliques forming, arguments and falling-outs – so that it feels familiar to us. In a clever twist, all of the key characters in this period are given nicknames by the old man that runs the camp, so that task number one for the reader is working out who these people are, and whether they’re important in the 2018 timeline.
Lattari avoids absolutes of black and white, good and evil here. This is a novel full of petty evils perpetrated by small people where vengeance – and not justice – is the name of the game. It’s almost impossible to like Max in either of his incarnations; he’s a smug and selfish man who believes himself to be the centre of the world. Audra is a girl on a mission, but it’s difficult to like her either, and we find ourselves on her side by default, almost, rooting for her purely because she’s a slightly nicer person than Max. Even Juniper, who inhabits a past in which Audra didn’t yet exist, fails to elicit much sympathy from the reader, her self-centeredness opening the door for the terrible thing that we will ultimately encounter. Despite the lack of a character with whom we can empathise, though, Lattari manages to keep us glued to the page, to keep us gripped in the excitement of the story, even if we are somewhat ambivalent to the fates of these characters (except, maybe, Max, who deserves everything that’s coming to him!).
There’s a sense of inevitability to proceedings, and it’s hard for the reader not to predict the outcomes: why else do we read crime fiction if it isn’t to try to outsmart the author? With Dark Things I Adore, we have a tried and tested formula and anyone who spends much time with mysteries will find that many of their guesses are right. But Lattari has a few surprises up her sleeve that will catch even the most jaded reader off-guard. This time-hopping debut is as gripping as they come, a character-driven mystery that is solid and engaging and definitely worth the time it takes to read. Katie Lattari is a new name on the scene but Dark Things I Adore is unlikely to be the last we hear of her.