Title – Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts
Author – A K Benedict
Published – Feb 2016 (ebook)
Genre – Fantasy crime fiction
It’s difficult to write a review of this book without comparing it to AK Benedict’s debut The Beauty of Murder because, with the exception of adding a touch of the supernatural to crime fiction, the two books are quite different.
Set in present day London ‘Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts’ is a more conventional crime fiction novel than her debut and features the eponymous Dark as a Detective Inspector with the Metropolitan Police. Dark is an unhappy chap – he can’t forgive himself for letting a young woman die at the hands of a stalker and he’s homeless because he and his wife have split up. He has, perhaps not surprisingly, quite a melancholic view of the world.
The book opens when another young woman finds herself at the centre of the mysterious stalker’s attention. In this case, however, she is unable to provide any information to the police as she can’t see. (In fact she was born blind and although she has recently had her sight surgically restored she wears a blindfold as she’s not yet comfortable with sight.) Maria is a fascinating character and her lack of vision provides lots of opportunity for Benedict to draw the world for the reader in terms of scent, sounds and touch.
Dark is also involved in the investigation of a murder in which a body is discovered weeks after the cremation of the victim’s remains has taken place. Finding the key to this mystery uncovers references to a sinister organisation called ‘The Ring’ and this leads him to encounter the supernatural aspect of the story – ghosts.
The presence of ghosts and the London setting brings this more firmly into Ben Aaronovitch / Rivers of London territory but Benedict has her own take on how the ghosts manifest themselves, what the rules are for their presence and introduces a rather malevolent variation.
There’s a lot packed into the book and it felt as if it had more pace than its predecessor. Although you still get a feel for Benedict’s sense of humour (do try to see her talk about her book at an event) there is less of the wry humour that lifted her debut, perhaps Dark’s personality made this less appropriate. There’s still plenty that demonstrates her skill with prose and a trip to Borough Market will never be the same again. The plot twists and turns and there are a number of red herrings thrown in that misdirect the reader (or not, if you’re really smart…).
Dark and Maria are both great characters. He has thrown himself into his work both because of and at the expense of his personal life and through Maria the two worlds collide. Maria seems to be independent and wilful but she has a touching naivety and vulnerability about her. Both are a little lost and even out of place in modern London but they form a bond during the course of the book that adds another dimension.
The plot is a little on the fantastic side of credible (it has ghosts – what am I saying?) but for me the boundary was really pushed when Dark and Maria managed to get drinks at Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market – something I’ve never managed to do!
This book offered quite a different premise to her debut but was an enjoyable and compelling read. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.