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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day

William Morrow Paperbacks, 416 pages, $15.95 (c2018)

Eden Wallace has been dealing with grief and depression because of the death of her husband, Bix, nine months earlier. Nevertheless, she is determined to honor a reservation her husband made for a getaway to a “dark park,” a place with very little extraneous light so the stars at night can shine in all their splendor. The catch is that Eden has developed an overwhelming fear of the dark. What does she hope to accomplish in a place whose main draw is one she cannot enjoy? This is how Lori Rader-Day’s mystery begins.

In the best Agatha Christie tradition, Rader-Day populates her large park cabin with Eden and six strangers. Night falls, one of them is murdered, Eden is caught in the middle and even becomes a suspect. So, whodunnit?

Rader-Day slowly reveals Eden’s full story. It gets sadder and sadder. She just wants to go home, where she can turn on all the lights in her house, not sleep at night, then finally drift off for a few hours as dawn is breaking. It’s a hellavu schedule to have kept for nine months. But she can’t go home as long as the murder of golden boy Malloy (a little pretentiously, just “Malloy”) goes unsolved.

The other suspects were friends of the victim. As a matter of fact, it appears it’s a college reunion of good friends that Eden inadvertently crashes. Although it’s been almost five years since they graduated, something is drawing them all together for the first time since then. Some of them have kept in touch, but the whole group is gathering to mourn the loss of one of their own. And that’s another story gradually teased out by Rader-Day.

Eden’s anxiety about the dark becomes symbolic for many aspects of her life. “Under a Dark Sky” is about Eden unburdening herself from what has been crushing her. She appears to be coolly competent and smart. As she attempts to unravel the murder herself — the local authorities being irritatingly slow, in her opinion — it appears she is fully capable of that. But that’s when her many problems rise up and confuse the issue. After a slow beginning — despite the murder — Rader-Day does a good job of ensuring her characters waver between knowable and unknowable and that several surprises await at the end. The only point that seemed vaguely awkward was the romance tossed into the storyline. Didn't need it, didn't want it.

“Under a Dark Sky” has been nominated for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

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