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Bronwyn Parry

GUEST REVIEW:  Darkening Skies by Bronwyn Parry

GUEST REVIEW: Darkening Skies by Bronwyn Parry

Spoiler (spoilerish trigger warning): Show

Some of what Jenn and Mark uncover has to do with years of coercion and sexual violence by some really nasty characters. None of it is described in detail but they do find photographic evidence.

Darkening Skies by Bronwyn ParryDear Ms. Parry,

A coupon allowed me to pick up your most recent book, and I was happy for the opportunity since it was on the expensive side. The outback setting is not a common one in romance or even romantic suspense, and I was looking forward to this story.

Darkening Skies is your third novel set in the outback New South Wales town of Dungirri. It opens with Mark Strelitz, an independent Member of Parliament, discovering that he had been the driver in a fatal car accident eighteen years earlier, and that Morgan Gillespie, who had been a passenger, was framed and forced to confess to driving drunk and causing the accident. Mark suffered a head injury in the crash and has no memory of the week leading up to it. Gillespie, who had been an outcast in Dungirri, spent three years in prison before being cleared of drunk driving, while Mark, the son of a local landowning family, was able to go on with his life. He decides to do the right thing, resign from Parliament and ask the police to reopen the investigation.

Jenn Barrett’s cousin Paula was killed in the accident. After Jenn’s parents died, she spent several years living with Paula and her parents, and the two were both friends with Mark – more than friends, in Jenn’s case, although Mark has no memory of it. Following Paula’s death, the seventeen year old Jenn left Dungirri and her abusive uncle behind and went on to become a successful journalist, covering various international stories. However, in the aftermath of Mark’s confession, her uncle asks her to return to Dungirri, since the family is shattered by the revelations and other recent events.

Some of the background to the story refers to things that happened in your previous Dungirri-set book, Dark Country. But although I didn’t really remember the details of Dark Country all that well, I didn’t feel lost, and the necessary information was conveyed without resorting to info-dumping.

It soon becomes clear that there was more to the accident and the subsequent cover-up than was first apparent. Mark’s home is broken into and set on fire, two men who might have knowledge of the investigation are murdered, and Jenn’s old colleagues at the regional newspaper where she’d worked as a teenager seem to know more than they are willing to divulge. They are clearly scared about Jenn digging further – with good reason, as it turns out. As Jenn and Mark work together to find what had happened eighteen years earlier and what other secrets might be buried further in the past, their old feelings for each other grow stronger.

My impression is that your books lean more toward the suspense part of romantic suspense, and this was again the case here. This part of the story works well, and I appreciated that it involves ordinary people and not any larger than life characters as sometimes happens in this genre. While my bio notes that I’m not a fan of small-town romances, this mostly has to do with how idealized small towns often are. Dungirri is not; there are good things about it, such as the sense of community, but also darker aspects. Actually, there has been so much crime in Dungirri that I wondered at times why any residents would want to remain there. I hope that the happy ending will extend to the rest of the town.

The romance in Darkening Skies is pretty much a secondary part of the book. Jenn and Mark both acknowledge that they are attracted to and have feelings for each other, but Mark’s life is in Dungirri, while Jenn’s life and career are elsewhere, and neither is interested in a casual hookup. In addition, Jenn’s childhood losses have left her wary of commitment and intimacy, and she is cautious in how she approaches relationships. So while Jenn and Mark are together constantly, they don’t act on their attraction until the very end of the book, and the focus is almost entirely on the investigation and its repercussions.

Mark is a really good guy. Romantic suspense heroes are often alpha types, but Mark’s strength lies in his compassion for others, his honor and his ability to solve problems and help people and to be a leader when one is needed. The problem for me was that he was so nice, kind and caring that he seemed too good to be true. I wish he could have been a bit more flawed, and I think it would have been more realistic.

Overall, Darkening Skies held my interest and it was different from what I usually come across when reading romantic suspense. On the other hand, I would have liked to see more interaction between Jenn and Mark that wasn’t directly related to the investigation, and to have their relationship explored to a greater extent. I’m not necessarily opposed to romantic suspense novels that emphasize one aspect more strongly than the other, but in this case it went a bit too far for me. B-

Best regards,
Rose

Rose lives in a country where romance readers are few and far between, so discovering romance websites was a welcome development. When not busy with reading and graduate school, she can often be found online discussing romance novels or sports –occasionally both at the same time. She has no TBR pile and is forever looking to change this unfortunate fact; recommendations for historicals, romantic suspense and contemporaries (preferably of the non-small town variety) are welcome.

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REVIEW: As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry

REVIEW: As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry

Update: I said I bought these from WH Smith, but in checking my receipt (at the request of Maude whose email I tried to answer but it did not work – bouncing) it was actually from Waterstones. Sorry!

As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn ParryDear Ms. Parry:

Thank you for sending me your books for review. I had remembered seeing your name around the blogosphere, but given that your books were published in Australia and I would actually have to make an effort to order them, I pushed the books out of my mind. I am a pretty lazy shopper (which is why the one click buy is so important to me). But then you decided to send the books directly to me.

I confess I hadn’t realized that they were even romantic suspense when you profferred them. I really do enjoy a good romantic suspense but it’s rare for a reader to find a good blend of the suspense and the romance. (I think I say this in every RS review, but it is true).

After I had finished reading this book and your other, Dark Country, I asked why these books weren’t published in the US. Someone said its because they are set in Australia, but I never felt like I was reading about something unfamiliar. Indeed, the location could very well have been in the Western United States given the descriptions of the land and the people, well, it just shows how universal human nature really is.

Detective Sergeant Isabelle O'Connell specialized in finding lost children, lost people, and when one of the children of her hometown, Dungirri, was kidnapped, Isabelle gladly joined the law enforcement team assembled to find her. The town and the team focused on one strange man living on the outskirts of town. Isabelle wasn’t convinced he was the culprit. When the body of the child turned up, the town’s anger crescendoed and a mob formed to bring the man to justice. Isabelle attempted to protect the man and in the town’s frenzy, the hurt Isabelle and killed this man.

Isabelle’s loss was multiple: she failed to save the child’s life, an innocent man was stoned to death, and the people she grew up with almost did her in, at the very least killing her belief in herself and others. Isabelle retreated to her home.

This story is about not only the redemption of Isabelle but that of the town as well.

She thrust her hands in her pockets, shoulders hunched. "This town was already in a bad way, well before Jess was abducted last year. It's lost half its population in the past ten years, and with the timber mill closed and most of the graziers shedding staff there's chronic unemployment. What happened last year – Jess's abduction and murder, Chalmers' death – can you imagine what that does to a community like this? The place is so traumatised it's barely functioning.'

Yes, he'd seen that today. Seen it in the people who couldn't look each other in the eye. Wives looking sideways at husbands, friends doubting friends, and no one daring to speak of the unspeakable.

I think a well crafted suspense story makes you think, not of what happens next but why. It shows you that good and evil is a much grayer area. For Isabelle, that the people that she grew up with, the people that she thought she knew, could so easily turn into monsters, was a truth she couldn’t really comprehend.

When another child is taken a year later from Dungurri, this time from a close friend, Isabelle is asked by Detective Chief Inspector Alec Goddard, from State Crime Command in Sydney to assist in finding the child. DCI Goddard is uncertain about Isabelle, thinking that a cracked detective isn’t much good to anyone but she came highly recommended by a superior of his.

Isabelle and Alec make a good team. Alec is secure enough in his own self that he doesn’t mind when Isabelle takes the lead in questioning people nor is he adverse to accepting direction. Isabelle uses her knowledge of the Dungurri people to help rule out and in suspects and each time she questions them, the knowledge of what they had tried to do to her, rumbled in the background.

We were able to see the two of them use deductive reasoning skills in weighing suspects. For instance, at one point, they debate whether the kidnapper could be a woman.

She understood his meaning. "If a woman abducts a child, there's usually an element of caring, of nurturing, involved. New clothes, toys or other gifts. Attempts to establish a relationship. But with Jess and Kasey there was . . . nothing.'

(I don’t know if this is accurate but it sounds good). The romance between Alec and Isabelle takes place over a short time and under intense stressful circumstances. Yet, it is highly believable. Alec comes to admire Isabelle a great deal and Isabelle sees someone in Alec who is not only loyal, but also strong. Further, like Isabelle, Alec had seen the worst in people. They had a shared sense of purpose.

The times in which Alec and Isabelle were intimate in the story seemed a natural progression of both their feelings and the overarching plot. It wasn’t at an odd time, in the middle of the jungle or when they should have been searching for the child. It was during times when they had done all they could during the day, interviewed, searched, investigated.

I think the villain is hinted at pretty early in the book and the suspense was more about whether Alec and Isabelle could unravel the mystery before the villain decided to kill another child. I enjoyed the police procedure aspect, thought the romance believable and well integrated; but I particularly liked the emphasis on how people are shaped by their communities, for both good and ill. B+

Best regards,

Jane

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This is a book that was published originally in Australia and has been released in the UK. I was able to buy it from WH Smith in epub format Waterstone’s in epub format with a US credit card. Remember that there is an exchange rate difference between the listed price in pounds.