I just read AK Benedict’s Jonathan Dark or The Evidence Of Ghosts. It came out last week and I read it in it’s entirety in two days. Compelling, multi-layered, this a good book for anyone who likes detectives and the supernatural.
I love to read detective and crime novels, but I’m not sure that I’d want to write one. There is a degree of complexity, of multi-layeredness, of a problem with a solution that is drip fed in a subtle way but which ends in some sort of denouement, that seems like a lot of hard work! AK Benedict sews many threads into her second novel: a conspiracy theory with a major criminal Ring that runs much of London, the personal stories of Maria who was born blind but has reluctantly regained her sight, and detective Jonathan Dark. There’s cybercrime, mudlarking and cross dressing, stalking, obsession and romance, and diamond rings made from the ashes of the deceased to throw into the mix too.
Benedict plays with the reader: Dark is separated from his wife and sometimes it seems like he is as much a stalker as the man who he is trying to track down. And then there is the supernatural element. Not just a detective story set in modern day London, this book takes place in a world where some people can see ghosts, in a London where ghosts are all around us. Is there a seat on the tube that no-one takes … that’s because a ghost is occupying it. You pick up a taxi one night, and the driver doesn’t say a word: they could be a ghost. Some of the ghosts in this book are content, but most are involved in struggles just like their human counterparts, and this interweaves with the key parts of the plot where Jonathan Dark tries to find the stalker turned murderer and at the same time investigate The Ring.
This is a compelling story, with perhaps too many ideas for each to get its due weight. One of the interesting threads which I felt could be drawn out further is Maria’s experience of regaining her sight. We know she was born blind but has gone through a new treatment that has restored her sight. We don’t discover how much sight she has regained, and we don’t really get to grips with the experience of seeing for the first time which i think could be fascinating. By the time we meet Maria she has decided that sight is not for her, and she wears a blindfold throughout the book. As the subject of a stalker this means that she is easily watched, and I wonder if Benedict is challenging the idea that ‘she asked for it’. To most of the population it is easy to say that Maria should take her blindfold off to protect herself. For Maria, this is an unthinkable step. She argues that seeing diminishes what she experiences through other senses. She is adept at navigating her London locality, and uses touch and smell when she goes mudlarking, tracking down antiquities that wash up on the banks of the Thames.
There are some great characters in the book: I like Frank the undertaker, Keisha the feisty policewoman, and Maria and Jonathan too. I think there’s more to Jonathan Dark than can be achieved by this one novel: I hope AK Benedict has a sequel in mind. Jonathan Dark or The Evidence Of Ghosts costs £6.99 on Kindle, and from £4-£12 on Amazon at time of writing.
What I’m going to be writing about next: I’m very excited that I’m getting a nice early review copy of The Birdwatcher. William Shaw is a great writer, I’ve loved his Breen and Tozer detective series set in 1960s London, and I’m looking forward to this new stand alone book.