The Darkest Place ~ Jo Spain

Jo Spain’s Chief Inspector Tom Reynolds has had a bad year, harassed by his immediate boss, Joe Kennedy (a portentous name if ever there was one) and blamed by the press for problems that are not of his making, things only get worse when he is contacted by Kennedy on Christmas Day and told that he is to prepare to travel to the West Coast Island of Oileán na Coilte to investigate a forty year old cold case. The island housed St Christina’s an asylum long ago closed down and now the subject of archeological investigation as a precursor to modern development.  Forty years previously, however, it had been the centre of an investigation into the disappearance of one of its senior doctors, Conrad Howe.  Howe’s wife, Miriam, has never given up hope that he will return home and each Christmas, on the anniversary of his disappearance, she dresses the Christmas tree in exactly the way he liked it in anticipation of his homecoming.  Now, concealed in one of the mass graves dug for the patients, Howe’s body has been found, little more than a skeleton, but still wearing his distinctive jacket which also contains his wallet.

Horrified by the details he reads in a diary, secreted by Howe in his attic, of the treatments inflicted on the asylum’s patients, Tom finds himself searching not just for a murderer, but also for the identity of the doctor at the centre of this abuse.  His efforts and those of his team are thwarted at every turn, however, by the presence on the island of Dr Lawrence Boylan, former head of the asylum and now a seriously ill man.  It is clear that he and the ex-nurse, Carla Crowley, who now takes care of him, are hiding something but whether it is to do with Conrad Howe’s disappearance or with more recent occurrences isn’t immediately apparent.

There have been several novels over the past decade that have dealt with the aftermath of the closing of asylums, many of which housed people who should never have been classified as insane in the first place.  One of the most interesting questions that Spain poses in The Darkest Place is to do with the effect that living and working in such an institution had on the people employed there.  No doubt many of the patients wrongly incarcerated did eventually become mentally unstable, but what about the staff?  How many of them managed to retain their sanity and what were the consequences for all concerned if they did become ill?

Because of its subject matter, this is not an easy book to read but it is a good crime novel. I did suddenly click what had happened, what the truth was behind Conrad’s disappearance but not until about eighty-five percent of the way through, which I think is about the right time for the light bulb to go on.  Jo Spain is a writer I am becoming increasingly impressed by and I warmly recommend this, her latest offering.

With thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

12 thoughts on “The Darkest Place ~ Jo Spain

  1. Liz September 22, 2018 / 7:43 am

    Great review thanks – this sounds like an interesting read. The best example of a novel set in an asylum (in this case a ‘hospital’) that I have so far come across (not that I look out for them necessarily lol) is Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. Highly recommended if you have not yet tried it (although I should declare an interest because Barry is one of my most favourite writers!).


    • Café Society September 22, 2018 / 4:37 pm

      I enjoyed (if that is the right word) The Secret Scripture, Liz, but my own favourite is Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which covers the same sort of ground but in Scotland. It is one of my favourite books of all time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liz September 22, 2018 / 4:45 pm

        Ooh yes – great pick!


  2. Margaret September 22, 2018 / 1:58 pm

    I’ll look out for this. I’ve read just one of Jo Spain’s books – The Confession, a gripping story with several twists and turns that made me keep changing my mind about the truth of the matter. I thought then I’d like to read more of her books …


    • Café Society September 22, 2018 / 4:38 pm

      I’ve come to Spain quite late, Margaret, but I think she is excellent. Her Tom Reynold’s series reminds me of the early Peter Robinson and she is getting stronger with each one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. FictionFan September 22, 2018 / 9:07 pm

    The blurbs of her books always appeal to me but I’m so wary of modern crime I need to be reassured – so thanks for the reassurance! I shall seek her out… 😀


    • Café Society September 22, 2018 / 9:11 pm

      She’s a writer I feel safe with and if that sounds rather dull I don’t mean it to. I feel safe with Ian Rankin and with Peter Robinson; I know they will give me a well made story, with believable characters. And like Rankin and Robinson, she is growing with each novel. I am looking forward to seeing how far she can go.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Cathy746books September 23, 2018 / 10:44 am

    I have no idea why I haven’t read Jo Spain yet as her books sound right up my street. I do like the sound of this one, it sounds very timely.


    • Café Society September 23, 2018 / 11:51 am

      Start at the beginning of the Reynold’s series, Cathy. I made the mistake of coming in at book three and I had some catching up on background to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lisa September 23, 2018 / 1:00 pm

    Drat, another intriguing author whose books aren’t easily accessible here in the US. Maybe interlibrary loan will come through.


    • Café Society September 23, 2018 / 1:11 pm

      Her earlier books are available quite cheaply from amazon in the U.K. Lisa. You might want to invest in the first one just to see if you like her style.


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