P.J. Tracy (the mother-daughter author team behind the Monkeewrench mysteries) begins a new series set in Los Angeles with Deep Into the Dark, a thriller that flirts with the fantastical while staying grounded in the all-too-real. Detective Margaret Nolan is working to find a serial killer who primarily attacks women, but a male murder victim leads her to Sam Easton, who may have taken revenge on the dead man for beating up his friend, Melody. Sam is an Army veteran whose tours in Afghanistan left him visibly scarred and diagnosed with PTSD. He could have committed the crime in a blacked-out rage, but Margaret sees things in Melody’s past that raise alarms as well. All the while, the killer shows no signs of slowing down.
Tracy introduces a lot of characters and story threads early in the going and then doesn’t stop adding them, which keeps the tension elevated. Sam has a series of encounters that feel like dangerous premonitions, but he’s acutely aware that combat trauma could be influencing his thinking. Stretches of downtime, in which characters just try to process what’s going on, feel very real. Sam and Melody both work at a bar; the tedium of repetitive work and their parallel efforts to build new lives and avoid attention make them a sympathetic if unreliable pair. And Tracy’s dry humor and the irony of such grim crimes occurring in sunny Los Angeles lend a grittiness to the story.
The conclusion is a neatly timed, highly visual set piece that’s going to be killer in the inevitable movie adaptation. But even this feels like it has a sly wink to it, incorporating film tropes, such as the heroine with a twisted ankle, into a fight for survival in which a screenplay figures heavily. The layered storytelling and empathy offered to every character make Deep Into the Dark not just a hard-to-put-down thriller, but one that leaves the reader with much to think on, with no easy answers in sight.