Review: Dark Horse

Crime fiction author and prolific blogger Margot Kinberg posted recently about bad books and disappointing reads. Judging from the number of comments provoked by the post, she hit a raw nerve.

I credit Margot with teaching me how to admit to not liking a book, giving me strategies for outlining why I think a book is flawed. While I still tend to err on the side of tactfulness — finding something good to say, finding someone else who thinks better of the book than I do, or simply not reviewing at all — I’m getting better with practice. Like Margot, I’m thankful to and admire reviewers who’ve been candid about books that they’ve found to be real disappointments.

But it still floors me when I don’t like a book everyone else is raving about, making me feel like the odd one out.

dark-horse-brownWhen a popular book disappoints me, I turn to Honey Brown to restore my faith. Earlier this year, I read Brown’s debut novel Red Queen, a gripping tale of what unfolds when a beautiful woman inserts herself into the refuge two brothers have built in the bush to survive a deadly virus.

Brown’s latest novel, Dark Horse, is getting rave reviews, and in this instance, I feel like part of the in-crowd — perhaps even ahead of the trend, having been a Honey Brown fan for some time.

Dark Horse opens Christmas morning as Sarah Bernard, recently divorced from a cheating husband, leaves her dream property — now on the market — on horseback for the seclusion of Devil Mountain in Victoria’s Mortimer Ranges. The ‘dark horse’ she rides is Tansy, ‘sulky, moody, headstrong, bursts of bad behaviour, while still fragile inside, quick to feel lost and rejected.’ From the onset, you wonder whether the descriptions of Tansy might apply equally to Sarah.

Sarah battles extreme weather including flash floods before reaching the shelter of a workman’s camp alongside the historic Hangman’s Hut, which is under renovation. But her solitude is  interrupted when a strange man appears, stuck in a bog. Handsome and charming, with an apparently damaged knee, Heath doesn’t appear dangerous. But as circumstances bring them closer together, Sarah’s suspicions grow.

The quality of the writing puts Brown’s thrillers in a class of their own.  Dark Horse shares with Brown’s other novels a tense, erotically charged, unpredictable atmosphere — one in which the hunted might become the hunter. Brown keeps you guessing, tapping into your primal fears while at the same time making you question the assumptions underlying those fears.

There’s a twist in Dark Horse, which has impressed many readers, though I have to confess — at the risk of going against the grain again — this was the least satisfying part of the novel for me. Perhaps I’m too conservative about the ‘golden rules’ of crime fiction in thinking it should be possible for an astute reader to spot the clues if they pay close enough attention. Or perhaps I’m not as astute a reader as I’d like to believe.

Still, Dark Horse is one hell of a ride — tense, atmospheric, engrossing and erotic. Read it to see how good a thriller can be.

Dark Horse by Honey Brown (2013) is published by Penguin / Michael Joseph.

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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10 Responses to Review: Dark Horse

  1. Everyone is raving about this…and I’ve not yet read it. Must remedy that situation.

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  2. Angela – Thank you so much for the kind words. That means a lot to me. And I know what you mean about turning to certain authors almost as a restorative. It sounds as though Honey Brown’s work is a very good restorative indeed. I need to read this.

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    • Margot, we have shared our disappointment about certain types of thrillers. Honey Brown almost single-handedly restores my faith in the thriller sub-genre. I’ll be keen to hear what you think of her books.

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  3. Kayeemen says:

    Clearly I’m not astute either as I did not see the ‘twist’ coming. Read the entire book again to pick on the clues. An engrossing read.

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  4. kathy d. says:

    Book question: I see that The Dying Beach is available at Amazon UK and US via Kindle. I am a paper book fan, and wonder when that book will be out in paper over here. Yes, I will buy it and share it among friends — something we can’t do with ebooks.

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    • angelasavage says:

      Hi Kathy, I will check with my publisher, but I think the paperbacks of the first two books should be available in the US this month or next; and the new book in early 2014.

      As an aside, I read both ebooks and paperbacks; if I enjoy a book I’ve read in the former format, I’ll often buy for others in the latter.

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  5. Pingback: AWW2013 Crime Roundup #6 | Australian Women Writers Challenge

  6. Pingback: My year of reading 2013 | Angela Savage

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