Jonathan Moore’s The Dark Room starts like any number of Kathy Reichs’ Bones novels, with a team of detectives overseeing the exhumation of a grave as part of a criminal investigation. But it doesn’t take long—only a matter of pages—before the novel takes the first of many intriguing plot turns.
San Francisco Police homicide inspector Gavin Cain is overseeing the cold case investigation when he is abruptly called away by his lieutenant for a more pressing case. He quickly learns that Mayor Harry Castelli is the victim of a blackmail scheme. Someone has sent the mayor a set of comprising photos of a young woman, naked and shackled to a bed. An accompanying note implores the mayor to take his own life or risk additional photos being released.
Cain is ordered to drop everything regarding his current case and to focus exclusively on the mayor’s situation. But Moore has other designs, and quickly weaves both storylines together into a complex, well-crafted thriller. The exhumed coffin contains a second set of remains that shouldn’t be there, and Cain, in perhaps a bit of a leap, believes the two cases are intrinsically linked. The further his investigation progresses, the more he is convinced the woman in the mayor’s photos is the woman in the coffin. Cain questions an increasingly charismatic assortment of individuals about their knowledge of the crimes, edging ever closer to long-buried secrets.
Moore—an attorney and author of three previous novels, including The Poison Artist and Redheads, which was short-listed for the Bram Stoker Award—infuses the complicated tale with richly detailed forensic facts and procedural expertise that would make Reichs proud. At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to craft characters you can care about. Cain’s girlfriend, Lucy, steals many scenes as she struggles to overcome a past trauma that has left her afraid to leave their house.