10 July 2008


Pan Macmillan Australia, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-4050-3832-4, 380 pages

Lauren Yates and Joe Vandermeer are paramedics, a team working in Sydney’s ambulance service. They are generally, but not always, on night duty. Joe has called in sick and so Lauren is on her own. An ambulance officer is always vulnerable in these circumstances. It’s a winter’s night and Lauren has just attended a horrific car crash where the driver died, and is now on her way back to the station. Two men rush out of an alleyway and one collapses into the gutter just in front of her car. When Lauren investigates the alleyway she sees a body. She locates another person in the alleyway, this time very much alive. To her horror it is someone she knows, someone she had hoped she would never see again. Thomas Werner is her niece’s father, and when he sees that Lauren recognises him, Thomas threatens to harm Lauren’s family if she reveals she has seen him. Lauren’s decision not to reveal this information when she later makes her statement to the police about the body in the alleyway has far-reaching repercussions.

In a sense THE DARKEST HOUR is a sequel to Howell’s debut novel FRANTIC because, although the central paramedic character is different, the investigating police officer is again Detective Ella Marconi. Ella realises that Lauren has not revealed all. THE DARKEST HOUR uses a structure of two parallel plots, rather like the structure of FRANTIC. Ella’s determination to succeed in her investigation and to cement her position in the homicide squad at times makes her obsessive and seemingly hard-bitten. The investigation brings very real danger for her as it is realised there is a “mole” in the homicide squad.

The personalised stories of the main characters breathe life into THE DARKEST HOUR. Lauren Yates at times makes some pretty poor decisions. Her partner Joe’s fiancĂ© is venomous in her hatred for her, ready to bring her into disrepute at every turn. Ella Marconi is struggling to maintain a life independent of her doting Italian mother and extended family. The result is well-fleshed characters that seem real.

THE DARKEST HOUR is not so much a mystery as a thriller. The reader always knows who the quarry is. The book gets its pace from the net closing around him. This book confirms that Katherine Howell is an Australian author to watch. In an Author’s Note Howell is candid in her explanation of how she came to be a writer, how she has used her previous job as a paramedic as background for her novels, but also how she had to distance herself from that life in order to write. There’s more on her website at http://www.katherinehowell.com. Katherine Howell lives on the New South Wales north coast and is currently working on her third novel. Her debut novel FRANTIC has been longlisted for the 2008 Ned Kelly Best First Novel awards.

My rating: 4.6

1 comment:

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

To properly assimulate your summary, critique of his newer novel, its best I read his earlier work "Frantic"----will have to get back to ya on This is newest offering.


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