The Darkest Place by Jo Spain

The Darkest Place (An Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery, #4)


Quercus Books|20 September 2018|352 pages|Review copy

The Darkest Place is Jo Spain’s 4th Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery book and although I haven’t read the first three I was keen to read this book when I saw it offered on NetGalley as I’d enjoyed her standalone book The Confession. As I expected there are references to the cases Tom Reynolds and his team investigated in the earlier books and it’s probably best to read those first, but actually this didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book.

I was soon gripped by the mystery right from the opening lines of the book:

Forty years was too long to wait for somebody to come back from the dead.

But still, she liked to get  everything ready. Just in case.

The ‘somebody’ is Conrad Howe, who was one of the senior doctors at St Christina’s asylum on Oilean na Coillte,  known to locals as the island of lost souls, an island (fictional) off the south-west corner of Ireland. His wife, Miriam had never given up hope that he was alive and would return home.

The psychiatric hospital was closed down years ago, but now there are plans to build a retreat on the island, an exclusive hotel, and during the demolition work a mass grave for the patients had been uncovered. Conrad’s body was found, hidden beneath some of the body bags and it was obvious that he had been murdered.

The narrative alternates between the police investigation and extracts from the diary Miriam had found hidden in the attic, describing what was happening at the hospital and the horrific treatment some of the patients were subjected to by one of the doctors. A few of the hospital staff, including the former head of St Christina’s, Dr Lawrence Boylan and an ex-nurse, Carla Crowley, and it is soon clear that something evil is still going on at the asylum.

This really is a chilling book and in parts I found it disturbing and difficult to read. Jo Spain makes it clear in her Acknowledgements that although this is crime fiction it is based on fact – such terrible things really did happen in mental institutions, housing vulnerable people. They were patients with dementia, deformities, depression, epilepsy and homosexuals – people whose families could not deal with them and they were treated mainly as though they were suffering from a physical illness or disorder, that could be fixed. Those that couldn’t be fixed were kept locked up.

For most of the book I kept wondering what had actually happened to Conrad Howe and suspecting various people of killing him, mainly thinking it was one particular person until halfway into the book, then thinking it couldn’t be that one. I was right about that, but it was only just before the truth was revealed that I had the slightest suspicion of what had really happened, which makes it a very satisfying book indeed. I’m now on the lookout for more books by Jo Spain.

Thanks to Quercus Books and NetGalley for provided a review copy of this book.

The Confession by Jo Spain

Publication date: 25 January 2018, Quercus Books

Review copy from the publishers, via NetGalley

My rating:  4 stars 

The Confession is the first book by Jo Spain that I’ve read, so I didn’t know what to expect. But the blurb interested me and I’m delighted to say that I enjoyed this book and as this is Jo Spain’s fifth book I’ll be able to read more of her work. She is the author of the Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery books, police procedurals based on the investigations of a Dublin-based detective team. The Confession is a standalone book.

Set in Ireland, it begins as Harry McNamara, a banker, recently cleared of multiple accounts of fraud, is brutally attacked in his own home in front of his wife, Julie. The attacker, JP Carney immediately goes to the police and confesses that he had killed Harry.  JP insists he doesn’t know the identity of the man he attacked and that he didn’t know what had come over him – it was as though he’d been possessed.

It’s narrated from three different perspectives – that of Julie, JP and DS Alice Moody, leading the investigation. So, was JP telling the truth, did he really know who Harry was and why did he attack him so viciously that he died after being in a coma for several days? What did he whisper in Harry’s ear as he left him at the end of the attack? And why did Julie just sit there watching?

These questions form the focus of the book, as Julie and JP go back over their lives, leading up to that fatal attack. At first it isn’t at all clear what had actually led up to JP’s attack on Harry, but it is clear that he hadn’t had an easy life, growing up with a mother suffering from mental health issues who left him with his shiftless father. Julie and Harry’s marriage was in difficulties, despite his wealth – he was unfaithful and she resorted to alcohol to compensate for his neglect. They’re all flawed characters and not very likeable. Alice Moody is, however, a likeable character, astute and suspicious of JP’s account right from the start.

There are several twists and turns before I began to see the light, after changing my mind about the truth of the matter, first leaning one way then another. But I hadn’t foreseen the final twist. The characters are well-drawn and the book is well paced. I didn’t find it thrilling or chilling after the opening chapter, but I was gripped by the story and I had to read it quickly to find out what really happened.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.