Starting around the year 2000, much of the ground that horror fiction had gained in the 20th century became lost to other genres, such as crime and thriller. Mind you, not because it failed to satisfy the reader’s thirst for excitement and the unknown or was in any way inferior to other literary genres. But rather, because most new genre amateur novelists focused mainly on grotesque descriptions and shocking themes, lacking the writing skills necessary to build mystery, tension and suspense within a story; elements that are vital to winning over an audience.
That is not the case with Jack Darby.
Writing in a stylistically brilliant way that some might compare to Stephen King’s most successful novels, Darby gradually introduces the reader to the core of the story all the while presenting believable, three-dimensional characters with whom one could empathize, fall in love with, or hate to death.
The author perfectly balances drama with realism and suspense with relief, even with the occasional stroke of humor. He does not avoid the shocking and the outrageous but gradually inserts it into the narration, causing the scandalous factor to become more psychological in nature.
Little Mothers is a Perfect Example of This
First, we have an eerie setting – a small isolated village located somewhere in the vastness of Russia that hosts a rather odd and secretive community. The author seems to fancy himself somewhat of a connoisseur of this country. As evidenced by the fact that he writes constantly about Russia and believes to have preserved many of its mysteries, which are impossible to find in the western world nowadays.
Secondly, we have an investigator who depicts an overregulated bureaucratic system that restricts his activities but ultimately can’t get in the way of his constant vigilance.
We also have a terrifying serial killer (Russia’s modern history provides us with enough examples from which Jack Darby could have taken his pick), whose monstrous deeds invoke feelings of indignation, disgust, and revulsion. Moreover, the killer himself proves to be not only mentally ill but also disturbed in other ways which severely impact his Modus Operandi. The monster’s life story is presented in remarkable detail across several chapters.
Although all these elements would’ve been sufficient to create an ideal horror setting that would entice the reader, Darby adds his main ‘ingredient’ on top. Namely, mystery. On the surface of the local river, piles of plastic dolls, their origin unknown, are floating in a rhythm of their own, like newborns in search of their mothers.
Maybe they belonged to “little mothers” who cared for them but who have mysteriously gone missing.
A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside of an Enigma
We won’t tell you how the story unfolds but instead invite you to read on and discover what destiny has in store for the odd criminal, the fed-up investigator, the small and mysterious Russian community, and last but not least, the dolls carried by the river with a specific purpose or simply by chance.
Jack Darby seems to know what he’s doing here. He understands the psychological profile of a murderer and knows how to recreate it from the ground up. He knows the mechanisms that invoke fear and what could trigger panic among the residents of the small village. Darby knows what motivates or, on the contrary, demoralizes a law enforcement representative. And finally, he knows how to raise specific questions not only about the mysteries of human nature but also about the world we live in.
In a nutshell, he knows his stuff and if you like Stephen King, you will likely love Jack Darby.