What do you get when you throw a snowstorm, a family Christmas dinner, a big old manor house, a murder mystery, horror and Simon R. Green’s writing in a blender and hit the start button?
This book: The Dark Side of the Road.
Introducing all new characters in this stand alone (hopefully it won’t remain a standalone) Simon R. Green returns with his own particular, or possibly better peculiar, take on traditional British murder mystery novels like we’ve come to know and love.
A lot of referencing has been done that this is SRG doing an Agatha Christie, and let me assure you, other than the fact that they both did “who dunnit” stories, The Dark Side of the Road has nothing to do with the creator of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best books the author has ever penned down. It starts off with a simple request to our main character: Ishmael Jones, who, in long standing SRG tradition, is more than he seems, from his employer. “Come join me for a good old fashioned Christmas meal with my family, keep an eye on things”. And of course, from that moment on you know that things are not going to be what they seem. For the longest time (which never feels as too long), things seem pretty normal, with a side order sense that shit will hit the fan any minute. The author does a great job creating both a feel of the surroundings as well as the all new cast of characters, which builds up a suspense in such a masterful way that you know something is about to happen, but you are still surprised over the circumstances things are happening in.
Even when you find out what exactly is going on, he keeps on building, expanding the atmosphere and keeping the reader glued to the pages. Fair warning though for those with health issues: make sure to put it down every chapter after the first crime happens, else you risk getting some serious jump scares in later chapters.
This is probably one of his most descriptive books to date when it comes to delving deeply into the perpetrator. Some things that have been described in his previous books were never as scary as they are in this particular novel.
What I loved the most about the Dark Side of the Road isn’t the blending of several genres, the atmosphere or the suspense, which are all masterfully done, but the leading character. Ishamael Jones isn’t, like most of the male Simon R. Green leads, practically invincible, relying on special powers or armour. Of course he has traits that set him apart, but for all of them he is still vulnerable. With him I got far less of a “oh he’ll save the day at the end, because he’s all powerful when push comes to shove” feeling than I get with other leading men. And that, combined with everything else, makes the Dark Side of the Road such a fantastic book.
For everyone that loves murder mysteries, and that can stomach some pretty scary scenes, this is a definite recommendation. And avoid looking at at descriptions on online stores, they may contain spoilers.