Quick Review: GATHERING DARK by Candice Fox (Arrow/Forge)

FoxC-JS1-GatheringDarkUKA disillusioned cop, a recently-released killer, a missing girl, and a whole lot of trouble…

Blair Harbour’s life as Hollywood’s top paediatric surgeon was perfect, until the night she was jailed for a murder she says she didn’t commit.

With ten years of freedom lost, her medical licence cancelled and her son being raised by foster parents, she’s ready to start again from scratch.

But when a former cellmate begs for help finding her missing daughter, Blair must risk it all to save a young life. Her only allies are a thief, a ganglord and the cop who put her away.

To do the right thing, Blair must mix with all the wrong people.

Will it put her new-found freedom on the line?

A good start to a new crime series set in LA. Gathering Dark introduces a new detective, Jessica Sanchez, who finds herself at the confluence of two old cases that are making her life increasingly stressful and potentially deadly. With a cast of interesting characters, a well-paced investigation, and plenty of commentary on America’s justice system, I enjoyed this.

Jessica Sanchez is not the most popular member of the LAPD. She’s impulsive, but very successful, unwilling to play by the unofficial rules that reinforce the department’s racist and sexist tendencies. Not only that, she’s paired with an extremely unpleasant, cruising-to-retirement asshole. But, when she inherits a multimillion-dollar house from the father of a victim in a decade-old homicide case, he position in the department becomes even more difficult and, perhaps, untenable. Battling jealousy, greed, and growing distrust and gossip from her fellow detectives, Sanchez has her work cut out for her. It makes her investigation even more difficult, and it was interesting to read about how she manages the obstacles that are thrown up in her way.

FoxC-JS1-GatheringDarkUSEven though this is the first book in the Jessica Sanchez series, as the above synopsis (from the UK edition) suggests, Dr. Blair Harbour plays a central role to the story. In fact, she gets about half of the book, I think, maybe more. Another excellent character, she’s recently come out of a ten-year prison sentence after apparently murdering her neighbour. Blair’s life as an ex-con collides frequently with her past, as she navigates visitation with her son (who happens to live behind Sanchez’s new inheritance), and her sticky-fingered former fellow ex-con’s request for help: help find her daughter.

Fearful for the many ways in which the American “justice” system is almost designed to trip up recently-released prisoners, Blair finds herself unwillingly in the company of multiple other ex-felons, in a series of increasingly dodgy and dangerous situations. All of this when all she wants to do is keep clean, distance herself from her conviction, see her son and not disappoint him, and maybe gain custody of him. Her past as a gifted and compassionate doctor, though, wars with the knowledge that she should avoid these people and situations, and she is inevitably drawn into the search for the missing young woman.

As these two characters enter each others orbit, there’s the added complication: Sanchez is the cop who arrested Blair a decade ago. I think Fox did a great job of writing these two main characters — their interactions are well done, and evolve over the course of the novel. Sanchez finds herself questioning her decisions from a decade ago, but Blair remains distrustful of the cop (and the system). Their need to get results and follow the rules conflicts with all of the obstacles that come their way. There is a lot of questionable decision-making and skirting of the rules/laws. Secondary characters are also well-drawn, mostly realistic, often endearing or amusing. You come to real feel for Blair’s predicament. Readers will also sympathize with Sanchez’s frustrations and anger at the system that’s supposed to protect and serve, but really criminalizes and persecutes a too-big slice of society.

Fox’s writing is well composed, and the plot moves along at a pretty good clip. I stayed up late into the night to finish the novel, and I can safely say that I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series.

Definitely recommended to fans of (LA-based) crime and thriller fiction, and particularly fans of authors like Rachel Howzell Hall, Steph Cha, Michael Connelly, Melissa Scrivner Love, and so forth.

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Candice Fox’s Gathering Dark is published by Arrow in the UK (out now) and Forge Books in North America (March 2021).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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