Fiction is a lot tidier than real life. For the most part, anyway. Villains are punished. Heroes are rewarded. Lovers get together and families are reunited. But, every now and then, I’ll read a book that leaves me unsatisfied and unsettled. Find You in the Dark, by Nathan Ripley, is one of those. It left a bad taste in my brain because the protagonist, Martin Reese, does terrible things and nothing happens the way narratives usually dictate. Normally this wouldn’t bother me. After all, I love books that play around with expectations. My problem with Find You in the Dark is that the ending smacks of rich, white, male privilege. The mystery is resolved, but it feels completely unearned.
Find You in the Dark has a fascinating premise. I picked this book up because Martin Reese, a retired dot-com millionaire, spends his time looking for the remains of the victims of serial killers that were never recovered by the police. The reviews made Reese sound like a modern day forensic archaeologist who wants to bring justice and closure to people who never learned what happened to their loved ones. It wasn’t long, however, before the book starts dropping disturbing hints about Reese’s real motivation. Not only does Reese leave taunting messages for the police, sneering at them for their inability to find victims’ remains, he also gets a kind of pleasure from digging up remains that made me feel like I had lifted the lid off of something nasty.
The novel switches between Reese’s perspective and that of Detective Sandra Whittal, who is obsessed with figuring out who the “Finder” is, and a man who becomes Reese’s nemesis. The three come together, so to speak, at the site of Reese’s latest find. He thought he was recovering the remains of his wife’s sister, who was killed by a serial killer who was later caught and executed before the book opens. But when he digs up the body, Reese finds the body of a woman who was killed much more recently. The main action kicks off immediately as Reese panics and his unknown enemy starts escalating his mental torture of Reese.
Unfortunately, Reese remained creepy to me throughout the story. I was unable to completely sympathize with him because of his taunting of the police and the almost sexual pleasure he takes in digging up remains. On top of that, the writing frustrated me. Because Reese and his nemesis are so paranoid about physical evidence, Whittal can only try to Sherlock Holmes her way to a solution. There are some breathtaking leaps of deduction that are close-but-not-quite-right that bothered me. (Whittal’s partner chides her more than once for this.) Whittal’s initial thoughts are on target, only to go wildly off track. Reese does a bit of the same in trying to figure out who is tormentor is the same. Unlike Holmes, whose logic is invariable unassailable, Whittal and Reese’s struck me as flimsy.
What bothered me most about Find You in the Dark is the ending, which offended my sense of justice. I won’t reveal the ending, in case anyone wants to try it for themselves. I kept reading, in spite of the leaps of logic and my dislike of Reese, because I wanted to see how Reese would get himself out of his impossible situation. But while the plot threads are mystery are resolved in a way that ordinarily might have pleased me, Find You in the Dark just left me cold.
I often like books that don’t have pat, neatly-tied-up endings, they feel more realistic and vivid. But this one sounds like it’s not for me!
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This book might have benefited from a bit more ambiguity, I think.