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Darkness on the Edge of Town
J. Carson Black
Signet, 368 pages

Darkness on the Edge of Town
J. Carson Black
J. Carson Black was born in Tucson, Arizona. She studied opera singing at the University of Arizona. After failing miserably at opera singing, she returned to the desert and started writing her first book, a horror novel. It was published some years ago. In the intervening years, she has written more books, many magazine articles and worked as a writer for Raytheon Missile Systems.

J. Carson Black Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lisa DuMond

There ought to be a law that novels should not be this well-plotted, assured, and addictive. It just ain't right. I don't know if it's the complex, compelling characters, the vivid, out-of-the-way settings, or the constant tension J. Carson Black weaves into Darkness on the Edge of Town, but once you started reading you'll move faster and faster, with no way to stop until the breathtaking ending. Forget sleep, because you won't have time for such trivialities; you're here to read.

Laura Cardinal has been called away from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to work with the small-town police force in Bisbee on a bizarre murder with chilling implications. A teenage girl has been found dead, posed and dressed like a doll, left to be found by the first unfortunate joggers to pass the town's band shell. The lack of clues, the ritualistic setting, the risks the killer took, all point to the worst possible conclusion: a serial killer is in their midst. Now, if they cannot find the murderer in time, another girl will meet the same grisly fate.

Such a critical investigation would benefit from cooperation among the law enforcement officers on the case, but that isn't going to happen. From the beginning, Laura is thwarted by petty politics and dirty secrets. If she is going to stop the killer from striking again she is going to have to rely only on herself and keep a few secrets of her own. The chase will take her from the ranchos of Arizona to the seemingly sleepy towns of the Florida panhandle. And, danger, she will find, lingers in the path of her prey.

Black vividly evokes the arid beauty of the Arizona desert, from the killing heat of the day to the mysterious world that comes to life when the sun sets behind the mesquites and the low hills. Few readers will be familiar with Appalacicola or Tallahassee, but Black has been there and done that, nailing the touristy/small town atmosphere of the area. Small details, lightly dropped in and not lingered on, give a more poignant window onto these locations than lengthy description ever could.

Such economy of particulars works equally well with her cast of characters. Rather than giving us surface, she gives us substance; we learn from her characters thoughts and actions the true nature of each person. Laura Cardinal is a conflicted, uncertain, sometimes very lonely woman. Those aren't things you learn from hair colour or pert nose or cat-like eyes; Black reveals the internal without wasting time on the external. Every character becomes a fascinating being. When they are suddenly taken away it is a loss. Most of the time.

But atmosphere and characters alone cannot drive a book, and Darkness on the Edge of Town is a thrill ride that will leave readers white-knuckled and breathless as it races to the face-off between Cardinal and the ruthless, sociopathic killer. Black never lets up on the pace for an instant; reaching the final paragraph is like reaching the safety of home just a fraction of a second ahead of a snarling pitbull.

Slam the door and lock it. You're safe for now...

Copyright © 2005 Lisa DuMond

In between reviews, articles, and interviews, Lisa DuMond writes science fiction, horror, dark realism, and humour. DARKERS, her first novel, was published in August 2000 by Hard Shell Word Factory. She is a contributing editor at SF Site and for BLACK GATE magazine. Lisa has also written for BOOKPAGE, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, Science Fiction Weekly, and SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE. You can check out Lisa and her work at her website hikeeba!.

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