This is the third book to feature Special Agent Smoky Barrett, coming after "Shadow Man" and "The Face Of Death". The former was a solid serial killer thriller, but the latter is one of the best entries in the genre. Despite a pretty awful beginning 40 pages, "The Face Of Death" developed into a fast-paced, genuinely scary and even moving thriller. It comes highly recommended.
When an author's second book vastly improves over the first, I take that to be a good sign. So I was very much looking forward to "The Darker Side". Alas, with greater expectations come greater disappointments, as "The Darker Side" is a very by-the-numbers affair, with the curious lack of drive in the proceedings exposing some of the author's more annoying traits - ones I was able to gloss over in previous outings because the stories were so involving.
Agent Barrett's case this time is to chase a killer who seems to be using his victim's deepest, darkest secrets against them. He'll get them to reveal their worst sin before murdering them. The first victim turns out to be the transexual son of a Senator. Although much is made of this political connection for the first part of the novel, it's basically forgotten about by the time the book is over - just one of the many faults to be found here. But, moving on....the second victim is a reformed drug and sex addict, which leads Barrett and her team to the woman's church and Father Yates, the priest she made her confessions to. From here, Barrett realises there's a very strong religious undertone to the murders and that the numbers 142 and 143 found on each victim means that her killer has actually been in operation for a very long time....
"The Darker Side" just has everybody - the author and the characters - going through the motions. It's clear McFadyen has run out of ways to move these people along. Smoky Barrett has endured being raped by a madman and watching as he murdered her husband. Same madman also mutilated her face. In the previous books, we learnt Smoky shot and killed her daughter while aiming to shoot and kill the madman, who used the daughter as a shield (these events all took place before "Shadow Man", so I'm not spoiling anything). In this book, we learn a couple more horrible truths about Smoky that she's had to endure. I mean, it's getting a little ridiculous. We're up to the third book here. It seems McFadyen only seems to be able to develop and define Smoky through the tragedies she has endured. Well, buddy, you're running out of credible ways to do this. Time to create new characters, or move the focus primarily to the plot, and further away from the characters we already have.
The other thing that really bugged me here was the way people talked. Callie, a member of Smoky's team, calls everybody "honey-love". Bonnie, Smoky's adopted daughter, calls her "Momma-Smoky". Kirby Mitchell, a character from "The Face Of Death" (who, realistically, doesn't even need to be here) calls Callie "Callie-babe". I mean, ugh! Enough! It was really irritating, and was highly noticeable because the plot here was so lacking. The religious theme to the murders was pretty ho-hum, the motive a real non-event, and the killer himself wasn't terribly interesting.
The fact that "The Darker Side" was a bit of a bomb doesn't mean I'll be giving up on the author. "The Face Of Death" was an excellent book, and I'm of the belief that somebody who can turn out a winner like that deserves a second chance.