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Daughter of Darkness
Ed Gorman
DAW Books, 333 pages


Art: Don Brautigam
Daughter of Darkness
Ed Gorman
Ed Gorman is the author of some 30-odd novels of mystery and suspense. Some of his works include Black River Fall, The Day the Music Died, The First Lady, Night Kills and Out of the Darkness. He has also edited or co-edited numerous anthologies, including the Cat Crimes series and American Pulp, amongst others. He is also the current editor of Mystery Scene Magazine.

ISFDB Bibliography
Interview With Ed Gorman Ed Gorman's column in Mystery Scene Magazine

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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Jenny Stafford, a rich but mentally-unstable heiress, shows up at a Chicago homeless shelter with no memory of her identity or of her previous eight days of existence. Michael Coffey, ex-cop and reformed alcoholic, takes her under his wing. At her insistence, they go to a seedy motel room she vaguely remembers. There they find a man stabbed to death, and a woman's bloody clothes. Believing in her innocence, Coffey takes her home but she disappears. Her fingerprints are found all over the motel room and on the murder weapon. Is she a schizophrenic psycho-killer? The minion of sexual predator Dr. Quinlan, ex-CIA mad-scientist/psychiatrist experimenting in mind-control? Or is Dr. Quinlan setting her up on behalf of a jilted boyfriend, or perhaps someone even closer to her?

Daughter of Darkness, unlike the suggestion of the title, is neither a noir novel or an occult novel, and the only element vaguely suggestive of science fiction is the fact that Dr. Quinlan uses microwaves in conjunction with hypnotism and drugs to control his victims. As a sort of updated hard-boiled detective-with-nutty-heiress novel, Daughter of Darkness is mildly reminiscent in theme, though not nearly as well done, as Dashiell Hammett's The Dain Curse (1929), or Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (1939). Unlike dicks like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the character of Michael Coffey is more a likeable nice guy in the Jim Rockford (The Rockford Files) or Thomas Magnum (Magnum P.I.) mold. However, the violence and sexual elements are still present, though in a different context -- this is not a book for the kiddies.

While Daughter of Darkness is not a bad novel, it has nothing that declares it a work of particular originality -- sort of a modern-day dime-novel, entertaining to read on the moment, but rather lightweight in hind-sight. Indeed, the idea of mind controlling of a young and beautiful heiress with drugs on the orders of unscrupulous relatives was handled with much more verve (and melodrama) in Louisa May Alcott's anonymously published "dime" novella A Whisper in the Dark (1863). The added sex and violence in Gorman's work, while more modern in style, doesn't really improve on Alcott's work, or any of the late 19th-century Nick Carter dime-novels.

Gorman's habit of shifting frequently from one character or venue to another, even when the situations are individually suspenseful, tends to impede his building of any sustained suspense. Gorman has at times been mentioned alongside Cornell Woolrich, as a master of suspense. While it is fine that Gorman doesn't have the decidedly ultra-noir pessimism of Woolrich, he also certainly doesn't generate the suspense of Woolrich. In The Black Path of Fear (1944), Woolrich's hero narrowly escapes the authorities by entering a pitch-black room. Breathless, he first discovers, then watches, almost hypnotized, the fluctuating glow of a cigarette across the room, seeing it eventually rise and move slowly towards him in one of the greatest suspense scenes in this sort of literature. Gorman's work, though admittedly from a different era, never even approaches this quality of panic-level suspense.

Gorman's treatment of Jenny Stafford's apparent insanity is rather superficial and, given that we soon know that Dr. Quinlan is working on mind control, the main question in the book is not whether Jennie actually committed the crimes, but rather the motive and motivation behind Quinlan's use of his techniques on her.

More interesting, and a better, if melodramatically portrayed character, is Gretchen, the homicidal and truly insanely-jealous ex-victim/lover of Dr. Quinlan. Gretchen reminded me a little, for some odd reason, of the lead character's girlfriend (who was troubled but not insane) in Jim Thompson's The Grifters -- she had been violated and sterilized by the Nazis. This comparison is one that may be made, as Gorman has been compared to Thompson in some reviews. Having only read one Ed Gorman novel but over a dozen of Thompson's, I must say that there's no comparison -- Gorman's characters are nowhere near as intense, twisted or depraved as Thompson's. With respect to the portrayal of mental instability in this sort of literature, neither Jennie nor Gretchen's portrayal comes anywhere close to John Franklin Bardin's gripping portrayal of the schizophrenic Ellen/Nelle through her own eyes, in his classic psychological crime-thriller Devil Take the Blue Tail Fly (1948). The basic problem is that the characters are superficial and are largely one-dimensionally good or bad. This made the story ultimately unconvincing, leaving me early-on with no doubt that the heiress was innocent, regardless of the evidence.

Lastly, Michael Coffey isn't a particularly interesting character. While he has lost his wife and daughter to a criminal, been "retired" early from the police force after offing the criminal and recovered from subsequent alcoholism, these traumatic events seem to have little or no effect on his generally optimistic good-guy persona.

Overall, Daughter of Darkness is a quick not entirely un-entertaining throw-away kind of read, but certainly not a book which will stay with one much past its finish -- something to fill in a long flight or other unproductive time.

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.


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