Places in the Dark

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Small towns are crime novelist Thomas H. Cook’s favored milieu, places where everyone knows everyone else—sometimes too well—but they are also places where secrets are kept and undercurrents run hidden and deep.

In the fall of 1937 a mysterious woman named Dora March arrives in the small Maine seacoast village of Port Alma with little more than the clothes on her back—and a singular reluctance to discuss her past. Before long the fragile, green-eyed beauty is working as the housekeeper for the elderly and ailing Ed Dillard, the village’s former mayor and one of its wealthiest citizens. Before long Dora has also captured the eye of both the sober, emotionally guarded lawyer Calvin Chase, the narrator of this story, and his care-free, sentimental brother Billy, the publisher of the local newspaper.

Within less than a year Dillard’s end has come, and Dora has fled without warning, having forever altered the lives of both brothers. Billy is dead, murdered, but by whom? And Cal finds he cannot stifle his obsessive need to know where the mysterious Dora came from, why and how she turned his life and his brother’s inside out, and where she has fled to.

The major weakness in Places in the Dark lies in the later chapters, in which Cal chronicles his pursuit of Dora back to her origins, back to the place she came from and the dreadful secret of her past. Dora’s story is horrible and certainly serves to explain her behavior in Port Alma. A singular event in her past has crippled the remainder of her life beyond any hope of repair. This is Cal’s story, however, and the reader cannot help but feel let down by its conclusion. Cal has found the answers he sought, but as the book closes what has happened to him seems as arbitrary and capricious as the damages wrought by a hurricane or an earthquake.