Insofar as flawed protagonists go, this was a surprisingly satisfying novel. At “only” 290 pages, it isn’t a dense novel, which works in its favor, honestly, as it keeps the plot moving. I can’t help but compare and prefer it to Tana French’s mystifyingly overrated Dublin Murder Squad series. Sure Ms French has moments of delightful prose, but her mysteries, when she bothers to solve them, feel inorganic, and the actual procedural parts are so annoyingly bad as to be almost laughable. Her characters are also lamentably stupid. Flawed is one thing, dumb as hell quite another.
Karen Ellis isn’t quite as good a prose stylist as Ms French, but she’s 100% better at story and characterization. A Map Of The Dark follows FBI Special Agent Elsa Myers as she’s pulled away from her dying father’s bedside to consult on the case of a missing girl. The police officer who originally caught the case, Detective Lex Cole, has specially requested her expertise, as something doesn’t feel right to him about Ruby’s disappearance (and let me tell you, it’s super duper nice to read of different jurisdictions coming together with very little friction to stop criminals and save lives. For this and quite a few other reasons, Lex is awesome.)
Elsa tries to focus on the case, but her father’s illness and the recent sale of her childhood home are bringing up unwanted memories of the abusive mother she adored. Her relationship with her younger sister Tara and her niece Mel are also tested as Mel insists on helping to find Ruby, even as the stress of the situation begins to affect both Tara and Elsa in ugly ways.
I really enjoyed how Elsa’s past was slowly revealed as the search for the missing girl progressed, and how the kidnapper’s own hideous childhood came into play. Elsa’s conflicting feelings were moving and wholly convincing. I did have qualms about what she did in her showdown with the kidnapper, but the final revelation as to her past went a long way towards explaining her drastic and highly illegal reaction. I also enjoyed the authorial tricks with perspective, even if I couldn’t call myself truly surprised by any of the plot twists. Still, a very entertaining novel that is more than competently written, and honestly head and shoulders better than some of the more acclaimed thrillers out there. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel soon!