Deep into the Dark (Detective Margaret Nolan #1), by P.J. Tracy

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, P. J. Tracy , St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After thoroughly enjoying the development of the Monkeewrench series, I was eager to see P.J. Tracy return with a new publication. A standalone, or perhaps a germinating series, this book differs greatly from the cold streets of Minneapolis. Rather, it’s a hot mystery set inside LA, with a killer who targets women and a recent Afghan vet whose battle with PTSD is one that is not going well. Tracy offers up a quick mystery with some interesting development, though Deep Into the Darkfails to resonate for me yet, as the Monkeewrench novels did repeatedly.

Sam Easton is back in the States, after a harrowing time serving his country overseas. What he saw and experienced in Afghanistan is enough to leave any man with wounds, something Sam does not lack. However, it is the marks that cannot be traced with a finger that cause Sam so many issues. His PTSD is severe, causing him horrible nightmares and blackouts that no amount of prescribed medication or visits to his psychiatrist can aid.

Sam’s taken up a job tending bar while he tries to piece his life back together., The city’s abuzz with a string of killings, as young women are found brutality killed in out of the way fleabag motels. While the LAPD are on the case, it’s a giant mystery as to where they ought to begin.

LAPD Detectives Margaret Nolan and Al Crawford are tossed the case, though they are slow to make any progress. After a few more bodies are found, one Sam Easton becomes a person of interest, as his ex-wife is one of those left slain. While Easton eschews his innocence, offering up a flimsy alibi, he cannot be sure where truth ends and possibility begins. His bouts of terrors and blackouts continue with increased intensity, forcing him to wonder if he could be living two lives, as he acts out what’s seen in these vivid dreams.

As Detective Nolan tries to give Sam the benefit of the doubt, she cannot ignore all the evidence that stands before her. However, there seems to be something that no one can ignore, which includes someone lurking in the shadows, almost seeking to pin the crimes on Sam as a distraction for a larger plan. While Sam’s terrors become all the more vivid, he will have to find a way to push the target off his back, or go down as a scapegoat.

I usually really enjoy the work that P.J. Tracy puts out. The moniker referred to an explosive mother-daughter team throughout most of the Monkeewrench series. When the elder passed on, it morphed into a fine-oiled machine headed by an experienced writer who knew her way around the streets of Minneapolis. With this new series, things seem a tad disjointed still, though there is the possibility that a fresh approach is still working out the kinks. I’d like to stick things out to see how the characters develop and whether Tracy can keep the momentum going.

While reading, I was apt to call Sam Easton the protagonist, as his bouts of PTSD cannot be ignored. However, it would see the reader should be focussing their time on Margaret Nolan and her glass ceiling breaking experiences within the LAPD. There are a number of building blocks P.J. Tracy has laid out to develop her character, including her fight to make a name for herself as the struggles with PTSD inside her own family. Nolan was not, for me, as memorable or central as I would have hoped a protagonist to be, though her presence cannot be ignored. Tracy has begun developing the Nolan character carefully, though there is still a great deal that needs to be done to showcase her effectively.

The use of a number of secondary characters keeps the story flowing. As I mentioned before, Tracy confuses things by offering Sam Easton more of the spotlight than a supporting character might normally receive, but I was pleased to see how intricate the development was to add depth and flavour to the story. The reader is able to see interesting side perspectives of veterans returning from the battlefield and how things are mishandled, leaving many to medicate (either under a doctor’s care or on their own) to dull the pain. The reader is treated to a number of other characters as well, all of whom provide something to keep the story from going flat.

Looking at the overall reading experience, Tracy provides the reader with an interesting mystery and an intriguing police procedural. While the narrative focuses more on the Sam Easton angle, there are moments that Margaret Nolan is permitted to shine in her own debut. The writing is strong and pushes the story along quite effectively, helped with short chapters to capture the reader’s attention. With a narrative that seeks to guide and dialogue that helps to show the way, P.J. Tracy lays the groundwork for what could be a decent series, though her fans will surely play the comparative game against the long-established Monkeewrench novels, as I did. In the end, it’s a great start and there is a lot of room to grow, perfect for those who need something that will intrigue, yet not full engross them just yet!

Kudos, Madam Tracy, for a nice start to something new. I’ll stick around to see what else you have in store for us soon!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: