“The Darkness of Others,” by Cate Holahan (Grand Central Publishing)
The pandemic has lasted long enough for pandemic-era novels to come out — Louise Erdrich and Jodi Picoult are among those who have written them. In Cate Holahan’s thriller, “The Darkness of Others,” readers are faced with a twisting murder mystery that happens to take place in New York City in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the dead body of acclaimed director Nate Walker is discovered in the opening pages, his wife, Melissa, goes missing, presumably to avoid arrest for murdering him.
But Imani Banks, best friend of Melissa, is convinced her friend is innocent.
Raising Imani’s suspicions, Tonya Sayre, a waitress Imani’s chef husband allows into their home after laying her off, turns out to have connections to Nate. Imani determines that it’s only a matter of time until she sleuths out who the real killer is, who may be in her own home.
“The Darkness of Others” is divided into three parts, the first mainly setting the scene and introducing the characters — perhaps two of the book’s biggest faults.
The setting serves as a reminder of the eerie feelings of the early pandemic. It’s a miserable, isolated, COVID-19 wintertime, a time of those igloo outdoor eating spaces, DIY haircuts and paranoia about breaking 6 feet of social distancing.
The author puts a thoughtful note at the end about her choice to set the book during the pandemic, but each reference to the early stages is more distracting and painful than the last.
Meanwhile, Holahan bounces between third-person views of the different characters, whose storylines wrap and twist around one another. There are so many names that only halfway through part two can you keep with all the storylines. By part three, it’s pretty clear who the killer is and that Imani will figure it out, find Melissa and save the day. Roll the credits.
Holahan took a risk with this book, and while it does have its clever moments, the biggest takeaway is that it may still be too soon for some to write a pandemic novel. We’re still knee-deep in “unprecedented times.”
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