Jane “Jinx” Kingsley emerges from a coma in an exclusive private clinic, unable to remember the previous two weeks. She doesn’t believe the doctor when he tells her she attempted suicide–twice–after her fiancé announced he was canceling the wedding and planned to marry her best friend instead. Oh, she can believe the part about Leo and Meg eloping–she just doesn’t believe she would ever try to kill herself over it. But there’s no doubt her car wreck was no accident; if Jinx didn’t set it up, someone else went to a lot of trouble to see her dead.
The mystery deepens when the eloping couple are discovered murdered, and tests indicate they died on the same day as Jinx’s accident. Worse, they were killed in the same brutal way as Jinx’s first husband was ten years earlier. That case was never solved, and now, horribly, history seems to have repeated itself. Jinx’s doctor suspects she’s lying about how much she remembers, and the police have a theory why that might be: the simplest explanation for the bodies piling up around Jinx is that she herself is killing them. They just need to break through her ‘amnesia act’ and get her to incriminate herself.
But if Jinx isn’t the killer, then there’s someone out there murdering her loved ones and trying like hell to kill her, too. Jinx has to push through the fear that’s making her blank out the missing time. She has to find the courage to open the door to the dark room in her mind, and learn the truth in time to save herself.
Under no circumstances should you pick up a Minette Walters novel unless you have serious time to read. Don’t do as I did and think, “I should have a book in at the library in a couple of days, but what shall I do in the meantime? Oh, here’s a 500-page Minette Walters book. I can just read the first few chapters and then set it aside when the library book gets in.” No, you cannot. What you will do is leave your library book languishing on the hold shelf for a week while you subsume yourself in the mystery at hand. Don’t trifle with Minette Walters–she is that good.
In The Dark Room, we meet three families–the jilted bride’s, the groom’s, and the eloping bride’s–and must find our murderer amongst them. The trouble is, it’s all too easy to imagine any of them battering three human beings to death–they are terrible, twisted people. They’re greedy, vicious, selfish, and sexually…I don’t even know the word for it. Not perverted, exactly. More damaged and thwarted and…aberrant. As I read the book, compiling my guesses about who was guilty of what, I found myself thinking, “OK, if he didn’t do it, something bad should still happen to him,” and “If she’s not arrested for the murders, they better get her for something else.”
You might think it would be unpleasant to spend 500 pages with such people, but trust me, it’s mesmerizing. Walters has a way of making you emotionally invest in her stories. It’s partly a rubbernecking response, a literary version of gawking at the fools and monsters of reality TV, and it’s partly a desire to see justice done for all the crimes we’re forced to witness. That’s the comforting thing about a Minette Walters book–she doesn’t overlook the petty social infractions when she’s dealing out just desserts. Indeed, I think she’s as interested in punishing the gossips, the misers, and the cheats as she is in catching murderers. And that resonates, because in our daily lives, we suffer much more from the former than the latter.
No-one is innocent in a Minette Walters novel, but some are more innocent than others. Some deserve protection and sympathy, despite their shortcomings, and some deserve scorn and retribution. Some crimes require judicial proceedings, and some crimes carry their own punishment within them. Walters sees to all of them–and sometimes, she lets one person’s infraction be the punishment for another’s crime. The ending makes it quite clear who the killer is, but leaves a tantalizing question about the killer’s fate–so while we solve the mystery, we also got a delicious frisson of did-s/he or didn’t-s/he? And that makes it all the more satisfying.