Nathan Ripley / Naben Ruthnum

A Review of Nathan Ripley’s “Find You in the Dark”

Gross-Out Territory

“Find You in the Dark” Book Cover

Wanna read a sick and twisted book about a sort-of psychopath? Nathan Ripley’s (not his real name; it’s a pseudonym for Journey Prize-winning author Naban Ruthnum) Find You in the Dark might be just the ticket. Combining a serial killer drama with a police procedural, the book is about a guy named Martin Reese who has the fun hobby of finding dead bodies from serial killer victims that the cops haven’t located. Nice, huh? While he’s also a loving, doting family man, he’s married to the sister of a woman who went missing 20 years ago and was the victim of a killer. Great, eh? Naturally, a female police detective has started zeroing in on Reese, but complications abound because someone else is pretty pissed off at Reese’s undercover work — a more recently killed body turns up among dead ones in a location Reese believes is the resting place (note that I didn’t say final) that his wife’s sister is in.

So how does Reese find these victims? He’s latched onto a corrupt police officer who sends him information on police records for a slight fee. And that’s where the book really goes off into incredulous territory. While it is plausible that there might be a crooked cop out there willing to sell certain information, I doubt that any cop in his or her right mind would continue to do so after finding out, as this cop does, what the information is being used for — simply for fear of losing his main source of income or worse. This is especially true because Reese taunts the police by leaving computerized voice messages chiding them for not following through on these cold cases.

So you really have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit through this twisted and turny book, that’s probably best described as pulp fiction — since it’s written in a really gritty style. While most of the violence takes place off the printed page, Ripley (or Ruthnum) spares no graphic detail on the state of the corpses that Reese finds. That means that this is a gross out of a book, one that can be hard to read at times for the stomach churning details and the fact that the main protagonist is basically one sick little puppy.

In fact, though, most of the characters in this book are of the “unlikable” sort. Even the policewoman working the case has a bit of a mean, sadomasochistic edge to her. Since the novel is told from rapidly shifting viewpoints from chapter to chapter, it’s hard to really root for any of these characters. I wonder if the book might have been better told from the policewoman’s point of view. At the very least, there would be a moral centre to this novel. Still, I did enjoy Find You in the Dark in a very perverse sort of way. This is a book about keeping secrets — Reese hasn’t told anyone else of his penchant for hunting dead bodies, and there’s an all-too-obvious hint of a possible affair between Reese’s wife and one of his former co-workers. On that level, Find You in the Dark is about the personal skeletons hiding in everyone’s closet.

Just don’t make the mistake of calling this literary fiction. Even though Ruthnum has won a prestigious Canadian literary award, this is the sort of thing they make television serials out of. It turns out that the television rights have been picked up for this work, so you can probably expect to hear more about it when it comes out. I’m not sure how long of a TV series this would make, since the book closes with a note of some finality. However, if the producers can find ways of milking the storyline beyond a season, assuming this gets enough viewers (fans of Dexter and Criminal Minds, probably) for them to do so, there might be more here than meets the eye.

As noted earlier, though, the book does stretch the boundaries of credibility. While I know there were a couple of high-profile serial killers working the Pacific Northwest (the book is set in Seattle and environs), Find You in the Dark makes it sound like the area is crawling with perhaps a good dozen or so of the perps, which seems ludicrous. But, to make the story work, Reese needs to exhume a lot of bodies close to his home in order to not raise too much in the way of suspicions from his wife and teenaged daughter. Maybe the book might have worked better if he was a bit of a lone wolf, but then we wouldn’t see much of a human side to him — which this book wants us to see. To that end, the author wants to make the book perhaps a tad hair above the obvious pulpy concoction this really is. (Still, it makes you kind of wonder why he bothered with a pen name, when the information on who he really is is readily available.)

Overall, Find You in the Dark is a fun, yet disturbing, work. It really works its best when it dabbles in the police procedural side of things, as the main detectives working the case make their deductions and come closer and closer to solving the crime, albeit with plausible false leads. Otherwise, it’s kind of wickedly gross and evokes our sympathies for a character who may be one step away from actually making a kill of his own. In fact, Reese is so thorough about not leaving a trace at his crime scenes that one wonders if it wouldn’t have been easier for him to choose his own victim to kill. It’s stuff to ponder about a book that really goes over-the-top at times, loading up things that just don’t seem all that plausible in reality. I guess this is what some people read fiction for. If you like crime drama, you’re probably going to go ga-ga over Find You in the Dark as it lets you live a secret double life of one drawn into the motivations of serial killers. If you find it stomach churning, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Nathan Ripley’s Find You in the Dark was published by Simon & Schuster Canada on March 6, 2018.

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Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.