Friday’s Forgotten Books: The Darkness Inside by John Rickards

Former FBI Special Agent Alex Rourke put Cody Williams behind bars seven years ago and hoped he’d never set eyes on Williams again. Williams, the prime suspect in a series of child abductions and murders, was convicted for the attempted abduction of another girl and the murder of a serial rapist.

Now, Williams is dying in prison. In the years that have transpired since his arrest authorities have recovered the remains of a few of the missing girls they believe he killed but there are other bodies still out there, other families hoping for closure.

Williams won’t talk to anyone, except Alex Rourke. And Williams has nothing to lose. As it turns out, the same can’t be said for Alex Rourke and in a dramatic turn of events Rourke is forced to go on the run from known and unknown assailants trying to kill him, and the police name him as the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

This is the third Alex Rourke novel, but Rickards has written it in such a way that it’s possible for someone who hasn’t read the first two novels to pick up this one and thoroughly appreciate it. This is a story that moves back and forth through time, from the original investigation to present day, and as a result the reader has all the information needed to appreciate the situation and what’s happening without being subjected to large portions of backstory that slow the narrative.

Last year in our Spring Issue I wrote a Backlist Review of John’s other titles and this is what I said then:

One of the reasons Winter’s End stands out amongst debuts is the ingenious premise of the story. The woman’s body is found with the presumed killer standing over her, knives in his hands, but a driving rain has washed away the blood and the police can’t find any evidence of how they got to the spot on the road where they were discovered, nor do they have any concrete physical evidence to prove the man is the killer.

And he has refused to answer any questions from the police, making it almost impossible for them to close the investigation.

The elements of the story were expertly woven with the skill of a seasoned professional crime writer, and the talent John displayed in his debut novel was matched, if not surpassed, in the follow-up, The Touch of Ghosts.

By the time I started The Touch of Ghosts I’d already developed a deep emotional attachment to the main character, and reading this book at times made me feel I’d been kicked in the stomach. The alliteration is delicious, the way the words flowed so smoothly made me go back and re-read passages, just to enjoy the phrasing all over again.

Again, I don’t want to offer spoilers to the plot, but I will say this. With The Touch of Ghosts I was expertly fooled. This is a mystery with a triple-twist, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

John Rickards is likely one of the most under-appreciated rising stars in the crime fiction scene, and I believe that he will follow up The Touch of Ghosts with a book that will put him on the radar of every reviewer and crime fiction reader out there. The only thing that is keeping John from being an international best-seller is that people haven’t heard how good he is.

There’s something about the way John writes that gets under your skin, pulls you into his world convincingly. The writing permeated the senses to the point where I could smell and touch and feel along with Alex Rourke.

I can honestly say now, having finally read THE DARKNESS INSIDE, that I stand by every word. I don’t want to give too much away, but THE DARKNESS INSIDE is an expertly woven tale. THE TOUCH OF GHOSTS blew me away, but with THE DARKNESS INSIDE Rickards proves he’s getting better with every book. Just as soon as you think you start to have things figured out Rickards pulls the rug out from under your feet. THE DARKNESS INSIDE never lets up, continuing to raise the stakes to the very end of the book and Rickards is one author who doesn’t pull punches. I felt as physically and emotionally battered as Rourke must have been by the time I finished the last page.

Although this is an intensely paced thriller Rickards doesn’t skimp on the character development, on examining the impact of the story on his protagonist. Rourke won’t get over these events easily. He has come face to face with painful truths about a case that haunted him, and has faced the darkness inside himself. It’s a riveting story that will grip you from beginning to end, and should have a wide range of appeal to thriller and procedural readers. I urge new readers to consider picking up all three books, and I envy you. The only bad thing about having read them is that I now have to wait for more of Rickards and Rourke.

This review first appeared in Spinetingler Magazine.