Deep Dark is the newest Tracers series novel by Laura Griffin. I first heard about it through the XOXO Afterdarkcast and was excited about a romantic thriller involving a white hat hacker fighting a black hat hacker/serial killer. Pretty much every procedural has done something involving the Dark Web and I figured that the title of this book implied that this would be the focus of the narritive. Unfortunately, my expectations were far off the mark this time.
Laney Knox is a hacker for the Delphi Center, a private forensics facility in Austin, Texas. She spends her days hacking into websites to assess their security weaknesses or helping out various federal agencies. She’s just finished working a big case for the government when she learns that a friend was murdered and the police have no leads. She takes it on herself to give them some.
Detective Reed Novak is recently divorced and bitter with it. His wife accused him of loving his job with the Austin PD more than he loved her and she used that as an excuse to cheat on him. Still dealing with his anger over his ex’s betrayal, he’s thrust into a horrific murder scene and finds himself facing a serial killer with the ability to stalk his victims through their digital footprint. Reluctantly, he turns to Laney for help and the two must work together the stop a serial killer before he claims his next victim.
This book is really the victim of poor marketing. It is billed as being a cyberspace thriller–a killer using the internet to find and stalk his victims–and while at face value this is true, it isn’t exactly a thriller. For one, the pacing was seriously off; it moved so slow for most of the book before finally picking up speed towards the end, but at this point it was a little too late for me. Action-packed it was not.
As for the cyber part, this was the weakest part of the plot. The killer does use the internet to stalk his victims, but it isn’t really something we’re shown, either from his POV or from Laney’s. We’re told that he’s using his victims’ webcams to watch them without their knowledge or consent and we’re told that he finds them through a dating website that he’s hacked into through a crack in the site’s security, but we’re not shown how he’s doing it. What we get is Laney saying she’s this great hacker, but again, we don’t see it.
Another issue I have with this book is that it isn’t very descriptive. Sitting here, I’m having trouble picturing either Laney or Reed. I know she’s flat chested (or near enough that her former lovers have apparently commented on it), that he’s broad chested, and that at the end of the book Laney’s got pink hair (or at least a pink streak). It is hard to read a book and not know what the characters look like; it makes it difficult to picture things. (When I was in 6th grade, my English class was tasked with writing a short story and when I got mine back my teacher had lowered my grade because I failed to describe things well. She explained to me that she just couldn’t see what I saw in my head when she was reading, which wasn’t something I’d considered. However, I was 11 and I’m assuming Ms. Griffin is not 11, so as someone who isn’t a child and does have a fairly large backlist, she should know this.)
I also had a problem with the romance between Reed and Laney–there really wasn’t one. Yes, there was attraction and several sex scenes, but I just didn’t feel an emotional connection between the two. Definitely not enough of one for there to be declarations of love at the end (which there were). They didn’t really have much in common, part of which has to do with the age difference (she’s 24 and he’s 39). Obviously, there are many May-Decemeber romances that do work, but I just don’t see this as one of them.
None of these, however, are what bugged me the most while reading. That distinction goes to Reed’s ex-wife, Erika. I cannot stand that woman. Every time she showed up she made me want to reach into the book and rip her face off–she’s that awful. Honestly, she’s the type of woman that makes me embarressed for the entirety of my gender. She’s a conniving bitch, who used her husband’s job as an excuse to have an affair and blame him for it. Then, to make things worse she’s condescending to Laney because she’s so much younger than Reed. She acts as if Reed is the one who left her when it was the other way around. There was no reason for her to be so mean–not that there was even a scene involving her and Laney. Any time she and Reed were in the same room together, she’d make snide comments about Laney’s age, calling her his “little girlfriend.”
What saved this book from being a wallbanger was its use of forensics. I found the expanations of certain things to be extremely interesting, especially when Veronica, the CSI person on the case explains why working with duct tape is illuminating. There isn’t any jargon here, thankfully as I wouldn’t have understood it if there was, but Ms. Griffin describes how the use of duct tape in crimes actually helps investigators looking for DNA evidence. I never would have thought about that, even though it makes complete sense.
I also enjoyed the interactions between Reed’s partner, Jay, and Veronica, which is obviously the set up for a future book. Even though I wasn’t crazy about this book, I will be looking for the next book, especially if it is Jay and Veronica’s story. I look forward to reading it.