Dare the Dark by Bruce Mitchell
Book Review

In Dare the Dark, Bruce Mitchell has set aside his Thornton family saga for the time being to venture into the historical mystery genre.


Sydney, January 1879.

A body with its eye hacked out is found in a suburban street, and a cryptic note promises more. Detectives Kennedy and Walsh scour the city for a crazed killer dubbed ‘Doctor Hacksaw’ by the press.

A female suffrage march turns ugly and Kennedy’s wife Mary defends three accused women in a courtroom drama. Walsh’s partner Victoria Chen has information on a crime boss that could get her killed.

Lives spiral out of control as the body count rises. Kennedy and Walsh are entangled in a web of Asian thugs and terrorism. Mary steals a horse for the ride of her life to stop the killer, and Walsh has a secret that could end his career.

There will be a reckoning in the darkness. Dare they enter?

My Thoughts

Detectives Liam Kennedy and Henry Walsh, members of the newly-formed Criminal Investigation Branch, are assigned a murder case that challenges their powers of detection on all fronts. With only a mutilated corpse and no clues except a cryptic, taunting note, the investigation stalls. When another body yields their first solid clue, Kennedy and Walsh theorize how the murders are committed and by whom. But despite their best efforts, the murderer remains at large.

To complicate matters further, Kennedy and Walsh become the target of anarchists and a Chinese criminal gang. And a work colleague is intent on causing trouble for Walsh, which could have dire consequences for both detectives.

I enjoyed how the investigation unfolded and tagging along with Kennedy and Walsh as they garnered evidence. There are several suspects, but who the murderer turned out to be was a surprise; his identity was well hidden.

The political and societal aspects of Sydney in 1879, which included the suffragette movement and the treatment of the Chinese, provided a colourful backdrop to the murder investigation. The Fenian anarchists and the White Lotus Group, although fictitious, were groups that could have existed at the time. Their inclusion leads to an action-packed showdown. Also thrown into the mix is police corruption.

Little-known details, such as the innovations in coach manufacture, microscopy, and the first commercially viable typewriter, sent me searching for further information on these topics. There were lots of other facts included about late 19th century Sydney that I hadn't known.

While the pacing was good, there were a couple of occasions when I was distracted from the main narrative by the author's plot devices. The action scenes written in the present tense didn't work for me. While I understood the author's intent, it interrupted the flow. As I'm not a huge fan of novels written in the present tense, I could be biased in my criticism here. Other readers may have no problem with this.

Another instance was the characters' backstories. I felt these could have been woven into the narrative piecemeal rather than presented as a swathe of information, and I'm not sure that all of it was necessary. I also thought an opportunity for a surprise revelation was missed by revealing the ethnicity of one of the characters too soon.

Overall, Bruce Mitchell's historical mystery did satisfy what I look for in this genre. Aside from the few niggles mentioned, it was engaging and suspenseful, with dashes of humour.

Dare the Dark will appeal to other fans of this genre. Definitely worth a look.

My review is based on a prepublication copy. Thank you to Bruce Mitchell for providing it.

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