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Dark Currents by Doug Burgess: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: Dark Currents

Author: Doug Burgess

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Format: Print

Genre: Mystery/general fiction

Publication Date: 2021

Star Rating: 4/5

Some books are easier to categorise than others, but that can turn out to be one of the things you appreciate most about them.

Doug Burgess is an academic as well as a fiction writer. This, and his childhood on the east coast, provided a rich historical and emotional background to Dark Currents.

The novel opens with the murder of the David’s Aunt Emma. She’s not his real aunt, but one of a group of elderly ladies who have known each other since childhood. The personal connections within Dark Currents are very real.

David, who has recently been sacked from his job for coming out as a trans man, goes to check up on his grandmother after receiving a disturbing call from her.

Maggie has dementia, so David is both concerned for his grandmother but not surprised. Arriving at Little Compton after a lengthy drive, he discovers that Emma has indeed been killed.

The history of Little Compton as a small fishing port on the east coast is very present in Dark Currents. David’s collection of ‘aunts’ share with the reader their memories as well as family legends going back hundreds of years.

Little Compton has always been a violent, dangerous and mysterious place. Murders have been commonplace, and David’s aunts have made a decent living through marine salvage.

They are tough old birds, and I loved every single one of their different characters. They were the making of the story for me.

I enjoyed Dark Currents immensely. It was very well written. The length of time it took David to solve the murders loosened the dramatic tension substantially, but not fatally.

This was in part because the personal development of David’s new relationship with a former boyfriend, plus the question of the welfare of the aunts, left plenty to hear about in the meantime.

Dark Currents was more of a family story than many murder mysteries, in that we cared about the fate of everyone not just about finding out who the murderer was.

Mystery, including murder mysteries, is a broad church as genres go. However, there are certain expectations that the reader brings to them which aren’t fulfilled here. Jokey references to Hercule Poirot don’t really make up for that.

That may be why the publisher refers to Dark Currents as mystery, thriller, suspense rather than as a murder mystery. I think that is probably a sensible way to proceed.

It felt good to have a trans character at the centre of the narrative. We found out plenty about David’s life and emotions, in part because Dark Currents was written in the first person.

However, the main emotional changes of his transitioning were behind him, so David’s trans identity wasn’t the main focus of the story.

I had some reservations about the first-person perspective. It was occasionally abandoned for lengthy narratives by the aunts, presented as one of them telling David something about history or family affairs.

My personal preference in such situations is always an immersive flashback because this engages the reader much more.

However, the choice of perspective did not materially detract from my enjoyment of Dark Currents. Overall, I loved it and can’t wait to read more by Doug Burgess.

Thank you for reading my review.

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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of The Secret of Annexe Three by Colin Dexter.

Or you might like to take a look at my review of Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers.

If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Hereditary.

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