No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

2013/06: Dark Places -- Jon Evans

Another notch on their travel belt, that they had walked with a murdered man. Another story for their friends when they returned to their safe European homes. He wasn't really a dead man to them; he was another element in their life-enriching trip, just another Travel Experience, like an animatron on a Disney ride. [location 200]

Paul Wood is a self-confessed 'mild-mannered computer programmer' who doesn't know how to be happy in his comfortable Californian life, so spends four months a year travelling. Trekking in the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas, he discovers the body of a murder victim, another backpacker. This is more than usually unnerving for two reasons: one, the murderer can't have got far, because the corpse is still warm; two, there's a Swiss army knife in each of the corpse's eyes, which is exactly what was done to Paul's girlfriend, murdered two years before in Cameroon.

Since the local authorities aren't interested in solving 'white men's murders' (and indeed would rather suppress any news that might put future tourists off visiting the region), Paul takes it upon himself to investigate the murders, and to find out if there have been others with a similar modus operandi. It's a way of coming to terms with Laura's death, but it exposes Paul to more danger than he expects.

Jon Evans is very good at evoking a sense of place: a shabby internet cafe in Bali, a desert road in central Africa, the empty heights of the Himalayas. He's not quite as good at characterisation: Paul, as narrator, is a complex and interesting (if often exasperating) individual, but most of the other characters are one-dimensional. That might be as much to do with Paul's egocentric world view as with the author's skill, though! Evans certainly captures Paul's sense of being lost and alienated, as well as his arrogance and privilege.

Dark Places is also very much a book set in the past: in this case around the turn of the millennium, when the DotCom bubble hadn't yet burst and the internet was all about Yahoo, web cafes and cable modems. It's interesting to think about how differently the events of the novel might play out now, in a more connected decade.

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