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WHAT YOU SEE IN THE DARK
by Mark Morris
Duckworth Overlook, March 2013
272 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 071564517X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Bakersfield is a small town a few hours from Los Angeles. In the 1960s it has a very provincial atmosphere where residents take a good deal of pleasure in gossip. When a Mexican girl, Teresa Garza, forms a relationship with Dan - a white man who runs a bar - tongues start wagging. One morning she is found dead on the steps to her apartment, and Dan skips town. At around the same time an actress and a famous director visit to scout locations for a film in which a woman is knifed in the shower by a deranged motel manager.

WHAT YOU SEE IN THE DARK is told in an unusual manner that sets it apart from the normal run of crime fiction. Events are seen via the thoughts of various residents of the town, permeated with events of the past, and the worries and the prejudices of the individuals concerned. One of these is Candy, a fellow worker at the shoe shop where Teresa works, who envies her relationship with Dan. Another is Arlene, Dan's mother, who was deserted by a brother, a husband and eventually a son, who owns a failing motel and serves at the café. The self-absorption and ugliness of this interior dialogue points out the emptiness of the lives depicted. In contrast, Teresa herself is revealed as an innocent with a sweet and accepting nature, all the more poignant given the foreknowledge of her fate.

The thoughts of the chosen speakers come across as the sort of exploration of psychological motivation that would assist in portrayal, and this resonates with the other component of the book: the arrival of the actress chosen to play the part of the victim in a film, Psycho, under another name. Her arrival causes a small flutter of excitement, and the reaction of Arlene and her fellow-workers at the café is illustrative of the small-minded attitudes in the town. The actress's thoughts are however on her plans, her enthusiasm about working with the famous director but anxiety about how appearing as a loose woman in the planned film may affect her image and likelihood of work in the future. Details are given about the filming of the famous shower scene, the many doubles employed and the hours of shooting involved to create the final piece.

The direct contact with the detail of the key event in the book – the usual focus on the crime scene - might be a problem for some. Others however, may find that this debut novel more than makes up for that loss in its lyrical flow and the almost dream-like portrayal of life in a dusty backwater, briefly disturbed by untypical events.

§ Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, March 2013

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