Dark Waters by GR Halliday #BookReview

Annabelle loves to drive. It helps her escape her world, her past. Speeding on a mountain road in the Scottish Highlands, she sees a little girl step out in front of her. She swerves to avoid her. The next thing Annabelle remembers is waking up in a dark, damp room. A voice from the corner of the room says ‘The Doctor will see you now’.

Scott is camping in the woodlands in the Scottish Highlands – but in the middle of the night, he hears something outside his tent. When he goes out to have a look, a little girl is standing among the trees, staring right at him. Scott is never seen again.

When a dismembered body is discovered, DI Monica Kennedy gets called to the scene immediately. After six months away from the Serious Crimes team, they need her back on board.

As Monica searches for the murderer, another body is found. Monica knows the signs . . . She’s on the hunt for a serial killer.

Title: Dark Waters | Author: GR Halliday | Series: Monica Kennedy #2| Publisher: Harvill Secker | Pages: 384 | ISBN: 9781787301436| Publication date: 9th July 2020 | Source: Netgalley

‘Dark Waters’ is the second DI Monica Kennedy novel from new author GR Halliday. Like the first book, ‘From the Shadows’ which I reviewed recently, it’s very much a mixed bag. It’s part rural horror novel and part police procedural. The problem is that whilst the horror is gruesomely brilliant, the detecting is pretty dull. And unfortunately it’s the detecting that gets the most pages.

The two competing strands are set up right from the start. A young woman, Anabelle, who is touring the Highlands is assaulted and kidnapped, whilst DI Kennedy is called in to investigate a horrific murder. The victim has had his limbs crudely amputated and it isn’t long before a similarly mutilated corpse is found. From that point the stories run in parallel until they inevitably come together at the end. Like Sally in Tobe Hooper’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, Anabelle is subjected to a series of grotesque psychological and physical assaults at the hands of her bizarre rural captors. Meanwhile, Monica Kennedy and colleagues investigate the double murders, doggedly following leads and battling demons from their pasts like all modern cops.

The horror is quite brilliant. It’s really creepy, with the details of Anabelle’s assailants gradually teased out in a really effective way. The detail is graphic and horrific, but it’s the anticipation of horrors to come that really sinks into your bones. Contrasted against this vivid terror, the more traditional crime elements of the book are pale and boring. I fund myself turning Monica’s pages as quickly as I could to get back to Anabelle’s.

This imbalance was present in ‘From the Shadows’ too, but it’s even starker here and makes me wish that Halliday would turn his hand to a pure horror novel. Sadly, crime is where the money is in modern publishing, so I suspect that won’t happen. One other thing that’s worth calling out is Halliday’s great sense of place. Just as in his first book, he makes great use of the windswept Highland landscape and gives the horror a credible sense of isolation that makes Anabelle’s ordeal more convincing.

Like ‘From the Shadows’, ‘Dark Waters’ ends up with 3 stars from me. Parts of it would have got a much higher rating, but others drag it down.


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