The Darkness is the pivotal, thrid episode in Bill Kirton's Cairnburgh series. I read and admired Material Evidence some time ago and felt confident that there would be more treats in store when I had time to explore the series further. DCI Jack Carston however has not been having such a happy time. The cases he encounters on a day-to-day basis are beginning to drag him down. He understands only too well the darkness that can blight a life from the inside. He has seen too much brutality, sorrow, injustice and wrecked lives.
Carston is a reflective policeman who relies on his intuition as well as the meticulous sifting of evidence. It's his own self-awareness that helps him to move into the minds of others and which also makes him ready to plead privately guilty to some of the casual sexism that pervades the police station as well as so many other households in the town. Crucially, in this case, it helps him to understand and even empathise with vigilantism. Understand – but not, finally, to condone. One of the best scenes in the novel is Carston's encounter with the lawyer who has so often assisted the guilty to walk free on technicalities. Not only has he grown rich: he knows what he is doing – and why.
Carston's sense of internal darkness is shared more intensely and dangerously by the bereaved brother of a suicide victim who takes justice into his own, increasingly unstable hands. This character, a good, compassionate and even humourous doctor, is the book's most compelling voice as he descends further and further in to the evil which he knows and loathes. There are others – Rhona, the working girl who thinks she has found a way to control her life and Jessie the alcoholic abuse victim. There is a moment of imaginative beauty when Jessie performs her own unsteady, sherry-fuelled dance in the twilight area of the homeless.
Violence by men against women permeates this book as a darkness of its own. I'm not sure whether Kirton is presenting this as endemic in urban Scotland or whether this is the specific darkness of this book. I'll need to read more in the series to find out. Meanwhile I am left distressed by my final glimpse of Rhona and sickened by Jessie's fate. This is a disturbing book – it's also a very good one.
Others in the series are: Material Evidence (1) Rough Justice (2) , Shadow Selves (4) .Unsafe Acts (5)
Reviewed by Julia Jones