IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT
Sphere £6.99 pbk
Released: April 1st 2010
Reviewer: Sue Lord
Sue Lord went to Art School and became an illustrator. She had success in later life as a painter but after the last recession decided to 'paint with words' and began writing short stories for magazines. She has an MA in creative writing, runs courses and does script doctoring.
In The Dead of Night contains two crimes and a mystery. First crime, I had to read it. And second, that it got published. The mystery is the statement on the front cover, “Who will live to see the morning?” This has no relevance to the content.
Six strangers shelter in a deserted old house, a Pele Tower, in the Lake District. Amanda who threw a glass of wine at her boyfriend and he toppled over a balcony (oh yeah?) She leaves his flat and goes to a four-day company conference in Keswick. You would think by the last day of the conference the police would have caught up with her, just to let her know he’s dead, especially since they work for the same company. City Boy, whiz kid and chancer Mark and Richard his “chum” face financial ruin if they don’t get to Reykjavik with a stash of money. Jilly, is frightened of something, we know not what. Angus, is a middle-aged business-man and Dawn his empty headed bit on the side.
The house has recently been occupied by a family of four, a mum and dad, two children plus dog. The lights are on, a fire burns in the grate, there's a half-eaten meal on the table, cases half packed on a bed. The phone is dead and the TV cable has been cut. The electricity goes off at some point and there seems to be an endless supply of candles. But the fridge, freezer and Aga still work. Mysteriously food and drink arrives at the door in a blizzard, on a mountain and with no footsteps in the snow. They take photos of themselves on their phones and they don’t appear on them. They wave frantically at a helicopter hovering over them, they shout and signal at the police who can’t see them.
And still they don’t get it.
When we read a work of fiction we make a contract with the author to “Suspend our willing disbelief.” By page 25 I was trying to get over the fact that “the mist had closed in” and four paragraphs later ‘the wind had now reached gale force.’
My suspended disbelief was stretched to its limit by page 31, with a plane landing on a crag and language like “chums, cripes and bade.” Would a city ‘whizz kid’ really say, “we slithered on our bums”? Angus and Dawn arrive in evening wear, she in high heels and skimpy dress, at night, on Scarfell Pike? 3000 feet up? The suspension of my disbelief finally snapped on page 41, Amanda apologized to Jilly. For what? I don’t know, did a bit of re-reading; still couldn’t work it out. Then the mist thickened yet again and they meet a man, Lucian, in a tweed jacket and suede shoes who has the accent of a Huguenot; what does a Huguenot sound like? He appears every so often, always inappropriately dressed and never answers any questions. But then, many questions aren't answered in this book
There is a lot of weather. Mist, mostly thick, sometimes thin, gale force winds, a thunder storm, hail, a snow storm and sun which is soon covered by mist.
We know, because we are told so many times and in oh so many ways that Amanda has leadership skills, loves her cad of a boyfriend who dallies with other women constantly. Likewise with the other characters, Angus thinks about his wife, Dawn was a mistake; Homely Jilly; her boyfriend, marriage, children and her mystery appointment. The two young men are friends from school days etc. etc., I found this endless repetition ultimately boring. As William Safire author, columnist, journalist and presidential speechwriter says in his book ‘Great Rules of Writing.’
“If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by re-reading and editing.”This is not a crime novel. If this is a ghost story then surely the build up needs to be believable? We need to be convinced by a plausible explanation as to why these people arrive at and are unable to leave the house. In that way we will be as surprised as they are when they come to the final realization.
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