In the Dark by Cara Hunter

published 2018

In the Dark 1 £25In the Dark 3 2.95In the Dark 2In the Dark 4  £400In the Dark 5 anya HIn the Dark 6 Anya 2

‘The store manager’s been told to keep her there until we arrive,’ [Quinn] says, turning off the engine… ‘He knew I was trying to track her down, so I guess the name must have jumped out.

‘And it’s deffo the same [person]?’

‘I’m pretty sure – apparently this girl nicked a handbag pom-pom. A pricey designer job. I’ve seen her bag – she has loads of those things.’

‘What the f… is a handbag pom-pom anyway?’ mutters Gislingham as he follows Quinn…

Quinn points at one of the shelves as they push open the door.

‘Right,’ says Gislingham, ‘so that’s a handbag pom-pom when it’s home. Who knew, eh – who bloody knew.’

commentary: Here’s a little test. Pictured above is a variety of handbag pom-pom charms.  The difference in price from the cheapest to the most expensive is around £400.  See if you can tell which is which. Also, how much would you pay for a handbag that looked as though your child had painstakingly decorated it with a sticker collection?

[Answers in the comments below.]

None of this is terribly relevant to the plot of this new book, except I suppose the shoplifting and the choice of item shows something about a character…

I very much enjoyed Cara Hunter’s first book, Close to Home, featuring DI Adam Fawley and set in a beautifully-portrayed and very recognizable Oxford. This is the second in the series, and is also a very good police procedural, with great characters. However, be prepared that it is not for the faint of heart: the crimes and lives in the book contain some terrible things.

The story opens in fine form with MayDay morning in Oxford, a time of great and unusual revelry in the city:

In the Dark 7

And then the story zeroes in on a pair of houses where building works are under way. Accidentally knocking through into the neighbours’ cellar, the builders find something horrible: a young woman and a child apparently locked in there.

The assumption is that the old man living there, who is mysterious and somewhat reclusive, and turns out to have dementia, is responsible, but the investigation proves to be far from simple, and nothing is quite what it seems. It is difficult to write any more about the plot without spoilering, because the story is very compelling and travels a long way from that opening, dipping to take in another plot strand about a different young woman who disappeared some time back. There is a lot of detecting to do… and the results could be described as far-fetched, though I do not mean that as an insult.

It is a very compelling read, and the clues and the plotting are very impressive, and the writing is good, and clever, and funny:
‘How much longer am I going to be stuck here?’ she says, in that sing-song upper-middle accent this town is thick with. 
‘My father wasn’t exactly an early adopter when it comes to technology. Him and the scanner were in a state of perpetual alarmed stand-off.’ 
I wonder in passing what the collective noun for profilers would be. A ‘composite’ perhaps.

My only reservation is about the gruesomeness of what is going on: it was definitely teetering on the edge of what I can take, although of course everyone has a different threshold for this. And even as I mentally drew a curtain over some of it, I was admiring of the conviction with which Hunter drew those who do wrong: one character in particular is horrifying, terrifying, but weirdly believable.

Afterwards, all kinds of questions might arise as to whether the events were possible (I was interested in the food order… ) but I always think that is fair enough: if the writer kept you going through unlikelihoods, then well played her. The same was true of her first book – but she gets away with it. And the detection is great.

Just, this is quite a long way from comfort reading, it is a book about nastiness…

Picture from the Beautiful Things blog


  1. Ah, yes,, handbag pom-pom charms. They're not my thing, Moira, but I see them all the time. I suppose there's a high-end market for a lot of things, but I wouldn't have thought of pom-poms... Anyway, about the book...I'm one of those who doesn't go for gruesomeness, so not sure this book is for me. But the premise does sound interesting, and the writing looks skilled. Hmmm....

    1. What Margot, you mean you don't have at least three pompoms on your bag? I am astonished! (not). It is a good book, I don't want to put anyone off, though I think a warning is fair.

  2. I agree with Margot. I don't have much tolerance for the gruesome these days. And now, Moira, you MUST tell us what those bags cost!

    1. OK, pom poms top row, l-r: £25, £2.95, £10, £425
      bottom row: white pompom £400+
      'Total sticker bag' from Anya Hindmarch: between £700 and £900. (Worth shopping round, ladies!)

  3. Blimey! I did guess that the sticker bag would be expensive (from my privileged position as the mother of a teenager who haunts T K Maxx).

    1. That's the place to go for a bag-bargain...
      I suppose it's silly to distinguish: I think it is ridiculous and incomprehensible and slightly immoral to spend that much money on a handbag. But IF you do, shouldn't it look a bit more classy than this one? I'm not sure where my logic takes me.

  4. Yes, totally with you. And I think there is some logic, because if you spend a lot of money on something, it should be a classic item that you can go on using for years and years and get a lot of pleasure from. Whereas this is a fashion item for a season only.

    1. Yes exactly - and very memorable! All your friends would be saying 'oh, still got your sticker bag I see...' Whereas something from TK Maxx would just always look elegant and admirable!

  5. Sounds as if I might enjoy it, if time allowed.

    1. Yes, I think you might - she's definitely up and coming and a one to watch, and pretty hard-hitting.


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