Review: “Into the Dark,” J.A. Schneider

Pros: Second half
Cons: First half
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

J.A. Schneider’s INTO THE DARK is a thriller/mystery about art history teacher Annie Lamb and her psychiatrist husband, Ben. Before Annie married Ben, he was married once before–and his wife committed suicide. Now, as Annie tries to help Ben’s troubled older son Colin, and watch over her and Ben’s young daughter Emma, she starts to suspect that maybe Ben’s wife didn’t commit suicide after all. The problem is, there are multiple suspects. Perhaps Ben, who’s started to act oddly, killed his wife. Maybe Colin killed his mother. Or perhaps it was one of the people from the community garden she was volunteering at. No matter what, events in Annie and Ben’s marriage are getting out of hand.

Even though I’m not fond of slow beginnings, I would have liked even a few more pages of context to start with. We dive right into Annie being paranoid and Ben being a manipulative jerk, so it’s hard to buy into this supposedly happy-until-now marriage. The characters are also, as a result, fairly unlikable. Annie develops possible feelings for homicide detective Connor almost immediately, which again doesn’t jibe with the idea that until very recently, Annie’s marriage has been largely a happy one. The first half of the book just feels a bit discordant because I can’t quite get a handle on that never-shown status quo of the marriage.

About halfway through the book, it turns into a much more interesting thriller. There are multiple possible suspects, which always helps. We know Ben is up to no good, but there are multiple possible motivations for why. As Ben starts to unravel, Annie and Emma’s safety becomes uncertain, ratcheting up the tension. The feel is delightfully claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing, which is pretty much what you want from a thriller.

The characters didn’t wow me, although in the second half they become more interesting and gain more depth. Pia, Annie’s best friend, never really moves beyond the artsy, loudmouthed best friend stereotype, and Connor is the concerned, hovering, well-meaning homicide detective who takes a personal interest. I think my favorite part of the book is seeing how Ben tries to cajole, manipulate, and trap Annie as he goes.

All in all this was a fun read.

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