When I picked up The Darkest Corners, by Kara Thomas, I almost literally couldn’t put it down. Murder mysteries are my go-to when I’m seriously in the mood to read, or I have a long car ride or flight, because no matter how sleepy I am or how much stuff I have to do, I can always find time to read the book and I can almost always stay awake to finish it.
Since I had some travel planned for the 4th of July weekend, I figured this would be a good book to keep me occupied in the car. I also like to follow up a slow nonfiction book with a quick psychological thriller. It gets my heart pumping again.
This thriller was about two girls, Tessa and Callie, who testified against an alleged murderer who was accused of killing Callie’s cousin, when they were eight years old. Now they are 18, Tessa has been living in Florida for the past 10 years, and she is back in the Pennsylvania town of Fayette to say goodbye to her father who is dying in jail. While she is in town, another girl is murdered. Tessa and Callie are rethinking their old testimonies, not sure if they really saw the murderer outside their window all those years ago. Tessa starts hunting for missing pieces of the case, certain that if she can bring to light new evidence, then she won’t be retaliated against for retracting her testimony. While all this is going on, she stumbles across even more secrets about her own family.
I really wish I could tell you more. But as is the case with mysteries, the point is that you need to know as little as possible. You need to be in the dark just as much as Tessa is, as she confronts her fears and her past and tries to put all the pieces together.
What I liked about this book was that Tessa and Callie have so many theories about who the old Ohio River Monster could be, who was involved, and how it happened. And they run through their theories in their heads and out loud, just as you, the reader, are thinking through all the possibilities yourself. Their thought process is very logical and thorough. So thorough that they have you convinced of what they believe to be true throughout most of the book, and it takes you to a sudden twisting ending when you least expect it.
At the same time, I had some criticisms. First, and probably least literary, Kara Thomas sets this book in a town outside Pittsburgh. I got super excited about it, and then I realized that she got so many things wrong. Maybe this is how other people feel when books are set in their towns. If you’re going to place a fictional book in a real city, at least get the details of the city correct. Embellish the characters and story all you want, but don’t say that your characters are driving down I-95 when I know for a fact that I-95 is nowhere near Pittsburgh, it’s over on the east coast, up and down Delaware and near Philadelphia. Also, Fayette is not a city or town. It’s a county. Then, later in the book, there was a reference to someone casually saying the word “bummer” in reference to a tragedy, “like the Eagles just lost a game.” Dude. The Eagles are in Philly. Pittsburgh is home to the Steelers. NO ONE within 100 miles of Pittsburgh would ever reference the Eagles when trying to make a comparison to something.
It was little things like this that the author got wrong that really made me mad. In the acknowledgments, I learned that the author lives in New York City. If you’re going to make stuff up about a town, make all of it up. If you’re going to reference a real place, you better make sure all your other references are accurate.
My other, more literary criticism, is about Tessa’s character. The author kept trying to describe Tessa as being needy and helpless, afraid to ask for something or to put anyone out. She doesn’t want people to know that she needs a glass of water or wants to use the computer. And yet, during the real action of the story, she has way more bravery and courage and tenacity than any other character in the whole book. She talks to prostitutes, has tact and wit, she hunts down alleged drug dealers, ventures into the woods where convicts and runaways live, confronts prison guards and police officers, makes phone calls to inmates, asks questions and defies her friends expectations. She is nothing like what she says she is and like what the author is trying to make us think she is. I felt like the author’s description of her and her actions just didn’t jive together.
My last, most important criticism, is the character’s ages. I have absolutely no idea why the author needed them to be the ages they were when certain events occurred, but the main issue is this – 8-year-olds do not remember the things that Tessa remembered. They do not have the drama that Tessa describes having when she lived in Fayette. They do not notice details and they are not so observant. Throughout the book, Tessa recalls memories from her childhood – her friends, relationships, details. She remembers arguments, fights, stories, families, hairstyles, clothing worn, what she ate for breakfast. She remembers how someone’s father acted, even though she wasn’t friends with that person. She remembers details of the town, gossip that was going around, events that were in the news – everything! There’s no way!
I feel like the whole point of the book, to sum up, was that Tessa testified when she was 8 and now that she’s older the details are fuzzy and she’s second guessing what she actually remembers. But from everything described in the book, there is not a single detail in her whole life that she has forgotten. This annoyed me. Every time Tessa is talking about something in great detail that happened when she used to live there, I had to remind myself that she was only 8.
I don’t understand why the author couldn’t have made her like 13, and then 10 years later she’d be 23. The fact that she was headed off to college didn’t really play a role in the plot. There was no huge significance to that, so the author should have made them older. Or why couldn’t the time that passed have been 7 or 8 years. She could have been 18, but then maybe she was 11 when she lived in Fayette. It would have been slightly more plausible for an 11 year old to remember that many details.
If you can look past all those illogical pieces of the book, I would say it’s fantastic. It’s a captivating, quick read, particularly if you love mysteries or thrillers.
If you read The Darkest Corners, what did you think about the characters’ ages during these events? Plausible or not?