Is the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ a genuine phenomenon for authors? I’ve often observed that to be the case, especially in my favourite genre — crime. Without delving into specific examples — I’m trying to eliminate unneeded negativity from my blogging life — it’s a very rare thing when a sequel betters the original. For long-running police procedural series, I’ve found the first book is often brilliant, the second and third kind of middling, and then — boom! The author hits their stride. Everything clicks.
But Melburnian crime writer Sarah Bailey has avoided the Second Novel Syndrome with Into the Night, the follow-up to last year’s fantastic The Dark Lake. She’s done this by being smart; doing what few writers have the courage to commit to so early on. She has totally changed things up. Eliminated the possibility of staleness by completely uprooting her protagonist, Detective Gemma Woodstock, and transferring her from the small town of Smithson to the hustle and bustle of Melbourne.
I started reading Into the Night thinking: Okay; what more of Smithson’s dark underbelly is there left for Woodstock to explore? And also, slightly nervously: I hope this series isn’t destined for Midsomer Murders territory. Because I was a huge fan of The Dark Lake; loved Bailey’s pitch-perfect balance of police procedural and deep-dive into Gemma’s personal life. I wanted more of the same, to a degree, but was wary as to how much more there was in these Smithon-based relationships to excavate. And also, there are only so many times you can mine the ‘this time it’s personal’ theme, which Bailey traversed with such panache in her debut.
The Dark Lake revolved around Gemma’s investigation into the murder of a former classmate, and insights into her past were smoothly incorporated to make the book a brilliant character piece, as well as a compulsive page-turner. Into the Night thrusts Woodstock into a far larger investigation. The personal element to the investigation is gone — she doesn’t know the victim this time — instead she is spurred on by a determination to prove herself in a much larger police department; both to her superiors, and herself, to justify her new life, away from her young son.
When a homeless man is found murdered in a Carlton park, Gemma makes it her personal mission to find his killer. But before she begin, she’s pulled off the case to work a violent and public murder: that of the lead actor in a blockbuster flick being filmed in the CBD. But when every suspect has a secret, how do you determine the murderer? Partnered with the abrasive Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet, Gemma enters a dangerous vortex that puts her career, and life, at terrible risk.
Everyone is this meticulously crafted novel might be playing — or being played —by everyone else. Bailey, elevating herself to the pantheon that houses Michael Robotham, Jane Harper and Candice Fox, demonstrates an exquisite touch with characterisation, plotting and page-turnability. This is crime writing at its absolute best.
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 23-May-2018
Country of Publication: Australia