Review: A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong (Casey Duncan #2)

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Minotaur Books on February 7, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

The follow-up to #1 NYT bestseller Kelley Armstrong’s acclaimed City of the Lost, Rockton town detective Casey Duncan makes a terrible—and dangerous—discovery in the woods outside of town.

  

Several months have passed since homicide detective Casey Duncan first arrived in Rockton, a secret settlement of 200 people tucked away in the wilderness of the Yukon. Like most members of the community, Casey came to Rockton to escape her past and leave the darkness behind…but Casey knows better than most that you can’t hide from your inner demons forever. Soon she starts to wonder: could it be that the people of Rockton are there for more than just sanctuary?

Before she has too much time to consider that truly chilling possibility, Casey, Sheriff Eric Dalton, and Deputy Will Anders are thrust into the middle of yet another disturbing case. While exploring caves, the colleagues and friends stumble onto a young woman trapped inside a deep, cavernous pit. The woman is none other than Nicole, a Rockton resident who had been ruled deceased more than a year earlier. Nicole has been malnourished, beaten, raped, and help captive inside that hole all without ever seeing the face of her tormentor, and now Rockton’s police department must race against the clock to identify and apprehend him.

A DARKNESS ABSOLUTE is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very dark. If you find stories that address rape and torture to be disturbing, you may want to steer clear. But disturbing is kind of the name of the game in thrillers, and Kelley Armstrong does a good job with it. When Casey discovers that Nicole’s abductor may in fact be a Rockton resident himself, all hell breaks loose within the community. The only thing scarier than the stark wilderness surrounding the town is the idea that a violent psychopath is trapped among them for the winter.

I’ve always felt that Kelley Armstrong excels best when she focuses on her characters, and I’m happy to report that she does so here. Sure, I wanted to know “whodunit” and I’m definitely intrigued by the shadowy council who controls Rockton – especially since they’re the only ones who know whether there’s a darker purpose behind the town – but for me the best part of A DARKNESS ABSOLUTE is learning more about those living in Rockton. Armstrong digs deeper into the hearts and minds of the characters I’ve come to love (and hate), peeling back the layers to show that no one is what they seem. I was particularly happy to see Jacob take on a more central role in this story, since he was one of the most intriguing characters from the series debut.

As always, I adore the way that Kelley Armstrong writes her romances, and I was quite pleased with this part of A DARKNESS ABSOLUTE. The relationship between Casey and Eric is really quite sweet despite their circumstances and dark pasts, probably because neither one of them has really had a relationship before. Eric’s gruff bumbling was adorable in its way, and it’s nice to see Casey opening up and actually, you know, experiencing some happiness. Given the subject matter of this series, I think the romance is essential to break up the tension a bit and give readers some time to recover from the grimness of it all. It was also nice to see Casey develop some more friendships with Rockton residents, including a new character named Matthias who’s clearly going to be important as the series progresses.

Admittedly the actual mystery portion of A DARKNESS ABSOLUTE was probably the weakest part of the book, not because I figured it out (I didn’t…sigh) but because it seemed a bit repetitive at times. Since they’re working in an incredibly low-tech environment, Casey, Eric, and Will are often forced to work in circles before they can discover any clues that help propel the mystery onwards. This made for some frustrating moments, as I felt like the gang took three steps backwards for every step forward. But that said, there were still lots of thrills and chills to be had in this one, and I think fans of the first book will be happy with it even if it’s not as strong as CITY OF THE LOST.

I’m eager to see what happens next for Casey and co. in book three, and I’m stoked to read more about all the new characters introduced in this story.

Are you a fan of mysteries or thrillers? Have you been reading the Casey Duncan series? Let me know in the comments!

  • Alas, thrillers is actually the one thing I seldom read :/

  • I’ve only read one book by Kelley Armstrong – it was The Masked Truth, but it was absolutely amazing in every way. So I can definitely see how her adult thrillers are also fantastic. This does seem like a story that’s hard to stomach at times, but I’m intrigued by the characters and the setting to want to give it a try. Of course, I’m going to need 10 fluffy romance novels when I’m done, but that’s not a bad thing. 🙂
    I have her upcoming Missing for review and I can’t wait to pick it up. And since this one is only 2 books in, I think I can give it a try and catch up!
    Lovely review, Danya. 🙂

    • OMG, that’s like one of the only ones I haven’t read! Hahaha. I do own a copy though, so now I’m even more excited to read it. I’m just so glad that we have such a great, commercially successful, multi-genre author from Canada…she’s awesome!

      It’s definitely tough to read at times, but so worth it. Book 1, City of the Lost, is actually one of my favourite books from recent years. Eeeee Missing! I hope it’s amazing, Nick! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it!

  • I haven’t started this series, but it definitely sounds like something I’d enjoy. I have heard this installment isn’t as strong as the first one, but it sounds like the characters really made it work for you:-D

    • Oh yeah, great characters can fix pretty much anything for me, haha. If you’ve enjoyed other Kelley Armstrong books then you’ll definitely like this series — even though it doesn’t have any speculative elements!

  • Bookworm Brandee

    I haven’t read this series but I adore KArmstrong, Danya! And I agree with you that her complex characters are the best. I will have to see if my library carries this series of hers. You have me curious about these people who inhabit Rockton. 😉 Oh, and I want to know whodunit, too!

    • Isn’t she the best?! I think she’s the author who I’ve read the most books from (more than 20, at least) and I keep coming back for more. Hopefully your library has a copy of City of the Lost (the first book) and if not you should suggest it for purchase! I know that I always appreciate it when library patrons suggest purchases to me at work. 🙂

  • You know I’m waiting to get ahold of this book why do you have to review it and make me want to read? I’ve decided to wait for my birthday at the end of the month… you know.. and be sensible about book buying for once. It does sound like it’s not quite as strong as City of the Lost but if you didn’t figure out the mystery I’m still pretty damn impressed. I know I had my suspicions when it came to City of the Lost but I wasn’t certain until the big reveal so hopefully it’ll be the same with this.Glad to see we get to see some new faces in this, I’m interested to see where exactly the series as a whole is gonna go because there are a few different stories going on with this. And I’m so happy about the sweet romance, it was one of the parts I really enjoyed before so I’m glad it’s still nice in this. I am totally going to have to reread City of the Lost in preparation. I haven’t done a reread of anything yet this year so it’s a good place to start.

    • I specifically did it to bug you, Becky. Hahahahaha. Oooh, when’s your birthday?! I’ll have to send you a nice lil’ message. Good for you for waiting, I’m the worst for buying new releases the second they come out. It wasn’t as strong as CotL in my opinion, but honestly that book was AMAZING so it’s hard to live up to. I still really loved this one, and the new characters were especially interesting.

      Casey and Eric are SO DAMN CUTE! I’m really relieved that I still like their scenes a lot now that they’re actually together, because sometimes I cease being interested once the courtship phase is done, but they’re still great. I did a re-read of all my favourite passages of CotL before diving into this one and I had a ton of fun with it. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this one!

      • I know, I felt the malicious attack. And my birthday is the 26th Feb and I will be old! Or 26, but that’s getting into the late 20s range and that doesn’t sound good. And I can handle it not being as strong as long as it’s still good and interesting.

        And I totally know what you mean, I feel like that a lot, I am sort of into couples for the happily ever after. I think that mostly happens when the romance takes over a story rather than the plot being the main focus. I can’t wait to read!

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    This one sounds like a bad case of cabin fever, only the cabin is a whole village hemmed in by winter!
    The perfect place for some mystery to solve… 🙂

    • LOL okay, that’s pretty great! Definitely some cabin fever going around in this one. Wilderness settings are quickly becoming my favourites for mysteries!

  • woah this sounds amazing and like it will give me nightmares! It sucks when the weak part is the whole point of the story, but glad it was an enjoyable read. Awesome Review!!

    • Hahaha yeah it’s definitely a spooky read! I highly recommend this series, even though the mystery was a bit lacking this time around. Thanks so much, Tori!

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I love books that give you better insight into characters. Glad you enjoyed this one!

    • Me too, especially when you’re surprised by what ends up being revealed! Thanks Lisa, I had a really good time with it. 🙂

  • Yep, you probably liked this more than I did, though maybe just a little, since I didn’t dislike it – just merely found it a tad predictable, that’s all 🙂 It was by complete accident that I stumbled upon the answers too, I usually suck at following the clues, lol!

    • I mean, I *am* basically Kelley Armstrong’s number 1 fan, hahaha. For me I think the real problem was that there’s no way it could live up to CotL, since it was SUCH a great read. Oh no, what a bummer when you just sort of wander into the answers! I’m horrible at following clues too!

  • Kelley Armstrong is right up there as an author I’d like to read soon. This series sounds amazing even if this installment wasn’t quite as strong as the first. I love genre mash-ups especially when they have a nice b plot romance. This series may be a good place to start though would you recommend any of her other books more?

    • Yaaaaay, I’m so happy to hear that Stephanie! She’s definitely one of my favourites, and I think this series is a great intro to her work — City of the Lost, book one, is one of her best in my opinion! Genre mash-ups should all have a romantic subplot, it’s basically the law! Hahaha.

      I think City of the Lost or Omens would be the best intros to her work, mostly because they’re both recent and in fairly short series. Omens isn’t as strong as City of the Lost, but it’s a the first book in atmospheric, creepy urban fantasy series (although the fantasy elements are reeeeaaaally sparse in book 1). I really hope you love Armstrong’s stuff!

  • I have not enjoyed Kelley Armstrong’s foray into mystery writing I have to admit. I wanted to SO much. The reviews for this serious are increasingly intriguing. And dark, YES!

    • Oh no, what a bummer! Do you like her urban fantasy novels at all? I think Omens — the Cainsville series opener — is a good blend of mystery and urban fantasy (and it’s honestly more heavily slanted towards mystery than UF, at least in that book). Her dark stuff is my favourite!

  • Lynn Williams

    I’m liking the sound of this series and will have to keep it in mind. It does sound dark (just read Mogsy’s review that says the same thing). But it has me intrigued.
    Lynn 😀

    • Whenever you’re in the mood for an unsettling but amazing read, you should pick this one up! Kelley Armstrong is one of my favourites and I think this series is one of her best. 🙂

      • Lynn Williams

        I was looking through my shelves and found three other books by KA – The Gathering/Rising/Calling – knowing me, I’ve probably bought three books that are in the middle of a series – which is why I’ve not started them! Have you read that series??

  • I kinda skimmed through your review cause I saw it was for the second book of the series and I was worried about spoilers for the first book! *sorry* But I can see you absolutely loved it! I haven’t read any of Armstrong’s books so far..neither fantasy nor mystery..Looks like i should check out her books! 🙂

    • Hahaha no worries, totally understandable! Being unintentionally spoiled is the worst. I did really like this one, and I thought the first book was even better! City of the Lost is the perfect mystery/thriller/romance combo, in my opinion. Kelley Armstrong’s books are always solid, I hope you enjoy them Uma! 🙂

  • Greg Hill

    This does sound dark. I’m glad to hear that it’s strong character- wise though, as the characters were the best part of City of the Lost. And these hints about there being more to the town than just a refuge for criminals- I’m VERY intrigued by that, I wanna know more!! Can’t wait to read this one. 🙂

    • Oh yeah, I completely agree: characters are the strongest point of this series. Setting is pretty epic too, Rockton is such an interesting community. Eeee, I can’t wait until more gets revealed about the darker sides of Rockton, because there’s clearly something going on there! Looking forward to your thoughts on A Darkness Absolute, Greg. 🙂

  • That’s too bad the mystery part was the weakest but it sounds like the rest of the book makes up for it, especially the characters! Glad you enjoyed this! I really should try reading more Canadian authors! Lovely review, Danya!

    • Despite my problems with the actual mystery I still really liked this one! The characters and setting are unbelievable good in this series — Kelley Armstrong writes really well about dark, shady people and places, haha. Thanks Cyn! 🙂

  • Siobhan

    I finished the book last night, and I’m just counting down the days for the next one. I hope we get more than three books! And thank for persuading me to pick up the series. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I cannot get enough of it. 😍

    Surprisingly I saw the killer about three quarters of the book; sometimes I don’t see it coming. BUT, Kelley knows how to write a convincing and evil character. So I can overlook my discovery early on.

    I’m glad you liked it!

    • Oh my god, wasn’t it epic??? Thankfully Kelly’s been contracted to write at least two more in the series, according to her twitter feed. Yaaaay! 🎉 I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to hear that you love this series, because I think it’s one of her strongest projects in a long time.

      Maybe it’s just me who didn’t see the killer coming, because you’re the third person to tell me that! Apparently I’d make a terrible detective, LOL.

      • Siobhan

        Yessss. I want to read it again! I’m totally fine with two more books! 🙌 I’ll develop a reading slump once the Cainsville series is over, so this one definitely makes up for the loss. Surprisingly, I was planning to just skip the series entirely. Now I don’t know what I was thinking!

        Agreed! She’s an instant buy for me, but, except for Cainsville, I haven’t been this excited for a new series in a long time.

        LOL Honestly? I just painstaking paid attention to every detail in ADA. In your defence, I didn’t see the first killer. 😅