Book Review: The Great Darkness (Nighthawk 1) by Jim Kelly

The Great Darkness CoverAbout the Book

1939, Cambridge: The opening weeks of the Second World War, and the first blackout – The Great Darkness – covers southern England, enveloping the city. Detective Inspector Eden Brooke, a wounded hero of the Great War, takes his nightly dip in the cool waters of the Cam.   The night is full of alarms but, in this Phoney War, the enemy never comes.

Daylight reveals a corpse on the riverside, the body torn apart by some unspeakable force. Brooke investigates, calling on the expertise and inspiration of a faithful group of fellow ‘nighthawks’ across the city, all condemned, like him, to a life lived away from the light. Within hours The Great Darkness has claimed a second victim.

War, it seems, has many victims, but what links these crimes of the night?

Format: ebook, hardcover, paperback  (352 pp.)  Publisher: Allison and Busby

Published in paperback : 23rd August 2018                  Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Crime

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My Review

For Inspector Eden Brooke, the darkness is a relief.  His experiences at the hands of the enemy during World War One damaged his eyesight, leaving him extremely sensitive to light.  Of course, his role as a detective is to shed light on the darkness of crime.  This is just one of the many plays on the theme of darkness and light in the book.

Brooke makes an engaging and interesting leading character.  An insomniac, keen night swimmer and faithful husband, he’s intelligent, well-read, perceptive but also ruthless when he needs to be.   In fact, it is during one of his night-time swims that he detects the first signs that something is going on in the city that is not quite right.   Denials from officialdom that anything occurred cause him to suspect a cover-up, or worse.  Then the dead bodies start turning up….

Brooke has collected a team of fellow ‘nighthawks’, individuals whose job or inclination mean they inhabit the streets, buildings or even rooftops of Cambridge while most of the population are asleep.  They are his eyes and ears on the ground, as well as providing companionship and conversation in the wee small hours.  Luckily, he also has a trusty assistant, Edison, but despite his name it’s Brooke who has most of the ‘light bulb moments’ (there’s that darkness and light theme again).

The Great DarknessThe Great Darkness immerses the reader in the narrow streets of Cambridge with its colleges, historic public buildings and riverside paths.  There’s also a great sense of the period from the ever present fear of bomber raids, the air raid shelters and barrage balloons to the wartime food (hare casserole, anyone?) and the copious drinking of tea.  The short chapters keep the story moving along and the interest high.  As far as the central mystery is concerned, it was pretty late on in the book until I saw the light.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.)  The solution, when it is revealed, raises issues of more contemporary relevance than you might expect.

I absolutely loved The Great Darkness.  The combination of atmospheric setting, period detail, absorbing mystery and interesting characters in The Great Darkness ticked all the boxes for me.  Those looking for a new historical crime mystery series to follow have found it here, I think.  It would also be perfect for those mourning the absence of TV’s Foyle’s War.   I shall be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

The Great Darkness SignedThank you to Allison and Busby for my (signed) review copy in return for my honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Taut, atmospheric, gripping

Try something similar…Nucleus by Rory Clements (click here to read my review)

Jim KellyAbout the Author

Jim Kelly was born in 1957 and is the son of a Scotland Yard detective.  He went to university in Sheffield, later training as a journalist and worked on the Bedfordshire Times, Yorkshire Evening Press and was education correspondent for the Financial Times.   His first book, The Water Clock, was shortlisted for the John Creasey Award and he has since won a CWA Dagger in the Library and the New Angle Prize for Literature.  He lives in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

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