The Dark Door, Kate Wilhelm (St. Martin’s Press, 1988) {Blackstone Audiobooks 2006; Narrator: Anna Fields}

Grade: Β — Fantastic book within the genre, probably worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that may not appeal to individuals who are not fans of a given genre.  Also, to avoid bias, the highest grade I’ll give a book by someone I know and like.

In brief:

One part Science Fiction, one part Horror and one quarter part Mystery,[1] The Dark Door is an immediately engaging book with excellent characters and an easy writing style that makes it a joy to read or listen to. 

Setting:

United States, with most of the action occurring in 1985 and scenes in Prehistory and June 1979.

In Depth:

Once and again one realizes why some authors receive awards and are constantly published.  Kate Wilhelm‘s works are always enjoyable, but this one is among the many of her books that rises to being truly memorable.  The characters were immediately engaging, the events both creepy and fascinating, and the narration smooth and delightful. 

The storyline bordered between Horror and Mystery, with a strong enough element of Science Fiction that it most commonly gets shelved within that genre.  In brief (and not giving away anything that isn’t revealed in the first three chapters) the story follows the events following the arrival of a malfunctioning alien probe that has left a trail of madness and death on the worlds it has visited before.  By the end of Chapter 2, it is pretty clear that the same fate is in store for Earth. 

One element that is a true sign of Wilhelm’s skill is that, despite the fact we know this right up front, we remain engaged in the mystery as it unfolds.  Indeed, a part of me wondered if the story would have been better if it had begun in Chapter 3 and followed the main protagonists right from the get go.  Regardless, I listened to this story with eagerness, fully engaged in watching the mystery unfold and touched by the occasional chills running down my spine.

Another thing I loved about the story where the main characters: Charlie and Constance.  Though I had no idea the book was part of a series when I picked up the book (the second in fact, but you have no need to read the first book The Hamlet Trap in order to enjoy this book), I can immediately see why she returned time and again to these characters. 

Charlie is a retired NYPD officer who had started as an arson investigator and now does PI work for Insurance companies.  Constance is a well respected psychologist.  They are married, passionately in love and old enough to have had truly successful careers.  I can’t say for certain how old the characters are in this tale, but we know they had were in their fifties plus.

For me, this was perhaps the most enticing element of the tale.  It focused on two mature adults who investigated mysteries in the kind of intelligent way that someone who had seen a half-century of life might: intelligent, methodical, and following proper research, but when action was needed they did not shy away.  Neither did Wilhelm introduce beautiful young people to perform the action sequences the way most stories do.  Instead, we see Charlie and Constance struggle through the action on their own.  They were never portrayed with the youth and vigor of a twenty year old (they ran out of breath, etc.) but neither were they infirm or shy away from danger.  Indeed, they go cross country skiing, pick huge orchards full of apples and engage in combats and standoffs with enemies and rivals. 

They also share a deep love and passion that one never sees portrayed in older couples.  Not just a comfortable friendship, but also a physical attraction and love that would put any eighteen year-old to shame.  Through out, I could not help but think that Wilhelm drew upon her own marriage for inspiration.

So, to sum up: I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Mysteries, Horror and Science Fiction.  If you hate Science Fiction and Horror, you might not like it, but if you don’t mind either one, it is a great read.

 Notes about the Audio Edition:

Anna Fields does an excellent job of narrating this story. She both reads without interfering with the tale and does excellent characterizations throughout.  She has a particularly good ability to portray both male and female characters without making one think, “Oh this is a woman putting on a deep voice accent.”  Neither does she let the thespian in herself loose and overwhelm the text with her acting.  In short, she reads the story like it would sound in one’s head: just what’s needed.


 

[1] Since we know the basic problem and criminals from the begining, this story is really more of a crime thriller than a mystery.  Even so, the format it follows is classic mystery solving despite the fact that we know who did what and why from the get go.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Crime Thriller, Mystery, Ripping Yarn, Romance, Science Fiction, Series, Strong Characters, Zombies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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