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"Doug Magee's Darkness All Around is a rarity: a real mystery by a real writer. If you're looking for a page-turner with characters who live and breathe and a setting that's as authentic as your hometown, you'll be very happy you picked it up." —Peter Blauner, Edgar-award-winning author of Slow Motion Riot and Slipping Into Darkness
It’s a body. That’s all I know.”
The woman’s voice coming through the phone was still new to him. He had met her only once, after she had hired him, in a rushed introduction to the central offices of the paper in nearby Docksport. She had been uninterested in him, insisted on calling him Hank when he said he preferred Henry, said he really didn’t need to know anything about the central office in “this fucking computer age,” hacked up a gob of phlegm that she then swallowed and would probably chase with a cigarette as soon as she could, and dismissed him swiftly when news came that a school supply storage shed in Upton had burned to the ground. He could barely remember her name: Doris Whiting.
“You got a car yet?” she asked now.
“Not yet. I’m …”
“Well, pedal your ass out there and let me know what’s up. Find the sheriff. Armey. Jack Armey. Townies are going to be standing around fucking lost. Jack’s a Nam vet. He’s seen a dead body or two. And don’t take any ‘no comment’ shit from him. Get him to grunt something. That cell phone we gave you might not work out there. Go to The Ding Dong and ask Walt if you can use his phone.”
She hung up. He looked out the gable window of his single-room apartment over the Rumskis’ one-car garage and saw that a gray day had dawned. He was cotton mouthed and hungover, and shuffled through a couple of crushed beer cans to his cramped half bathroom, thinking he was going to throw up. But after standing in front of the toilet for a couple of minutes he realized he wasn’t going to heave then. That would come later, he guessed. When he saw the body.
He was pedaling hard uphill against a light wind, a little spitting rain blurring his vision, when he realized he didn’t have his helmet or his notebook. Or a pen. He looked down at himself to make sure he was actually wearing clothes. He had covered mock murders before, mock accidents, one just weeks ago, before graduation, but this was the real thing. What kind of real thing, he didn’t know. “It’s a body.” A body in a wooded area off a two-lane country road. Doris had said there were some details on the scanner, but she didn’t trust them. She wanted eyes and ears on the ground. A week and a half on the job, a couple of nights getting shitfaced with a new friend. Was he ready for this?
He crested the hill and saw a long flat stretch of road and a cluster of cop cars and an ambulance in the distance, about a quarter of a mile before The Ding Dong, the roadside tavern he’d helped close down two or three nights ago. What was the sheriff’s name? He fished a piece of paper out of his pants pocket. Armey. The light rain stained the writing. Hadn’t there been some kooky congressman from this part of Pennsylvania named Armey?
He put the paper back in his pocket and realized he had a pen after all. He braked quickly when he saw a flattened paper bag by the side of the road. He was ready now. He had his tools.
After he got off his bike and moved in the direction a couple of cops were heading, a trooper held out his hand. Henry showed his newly minted press ID and the trooper scowled, looking down at his parked bike.
“You workin’ on a reporter merit badge or something?”
“You goin’ up there to see the body?”
“You won’t be new for long.”
He had folded the paper bag and stuffed it in his back pocket, hoping when he had to take notes he could do so surreptitiously. He caught up with the cops, who he thought were town cops, introduced himself, asked for Armey. Both of them were close to his age and looked as nervous about what they were about to see as he was. They said Armey had gone up about five minutes earlier. He asked what the cops knew as they tramped through brown weeds and then brush leading to a stand of hardwoods. They shrugged, not with indifference but with something like fear.
A trooper surprised them, running out of the woods, barking into a walkie-talkie. They parted and he ran through them without acknowledging their presence. The younger of the two cops stopped and shook his head, giving his partner a defeated, pleading look.
“He said we didn’t have to do this. I ain’t gonna do it.”
“Don’t pussy out on me. This is real shit.”
“You take the nightmare. I got enough.”
He turned and walked back down the incline. The other cop had a moment of decision, flipped his cohort the bird, and kept walking. He was mumbling and about to say something coherent when they looked up to see a small gaggle of troopers and cops in a clearing ahead.
Though the cop with him slowed at the sight, Henry kept moving. In the days and months later, when he told the story, when he wrote about it, he couldn’t say what it was that hooked fingers in his nostrils and hauled him forward, that made him think he wasn’t going to throw up, that had him reaching for his flattened-out paper bag notebook. A reporter’s curiosity? The clarity that comes when a hangover lifts? A sense of duty? He didn’t know, he didn’t care. He simply went up to a spot where he could see all as the technicians and the ME and the cops hovered and worked and photographed and jabbered. He stood with his pen and his paper bag, but he made no attempt to take notes.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Henry had not yet glimpsed the body when the gravelly voice barked at him. He turned to see a man in his fifties, wearing a faded Eagles T-shirt over a sizable paunch, shorts, flip-flops, and a seed cap that said SHERIFF on the front. Henry held out his ID.
“Henry Saltz. I’m the new—”
“Yeah. Don’t touch anything, okay?” He started to walk away.
“Can I get a comment from you?”
“Sure. Tell Doris to lay off the fucking exclamation points and report the fucking facts. I guess that goes for you too, Wet-Behind-the-Ears.”
“Okay. What are the facts?”
Armey gestured toward the body. “Take a look.” He moved away.
Henry waited until the ME and a photographer weren’t blocking his view. He then took a couple of steps forward, as if he were approaching a casket at a wake. He heard a voice to his right say, “… waitress at The Ding Dong.” Henry knew then what he was looking at. But he didn’t make a note as he took another step. Then as he came close to the body, as he saw its features, something kept him from seeing the corpse as dead. He both lost focus and saw things with utter clarity. He looked through the body to something deeper.
She had been pretty and alive, but that had been days ago, when she walked and laughed. Now she was part of the earth, a fallen log across the trail, gravity and the elements working to make her one with the soil. She was no longer whole, but she was recognizable, her hacked, cubist features hinting at the woman she had been. He could see that woman in sunshine, with white teeth and shiny legs, with glistening hair curving over an ear. He could see how untouchable she had been, a perfect specimen of grace and form. The more he looked, the deeper he went. He knew her now, in a way no one could ever have known her in life. To the cops she was a broken body, a case, a puzzle, but to him she was elemental existence. Whatever had happened had closed off one thing, closed off time and space for her, but it had opened him to new life. As contradictory as all this was to any rationality, he didn’t question it. He felt it with ever more assurance. The cops were looking at an endpoint. He was looking at a commencement.
There was a small commotion and a trooper came into the circle gingerly holding a curving machete between his latexed thumb and forefinger. The blood-caked metal made sense to the cops. They could see how it had been used, how it explained the beauty pageant ribbon of open flesh from her shoulder to her hip. But to him it was an intrusion, an ugly mechanism that explained nothing, that was all surface. He would write about it, but in the first flush of its appearance it had the effect of pulling him back from the fuller picture. He wanted to stay in the presence of this creature, lifeless as she was, to know in his bones and his heart that all was over for her, that all was over for him. These weren’t things you could write about. You could barely feel them. But here they were now. He only wanted to stay.
Then the sheet came over her, and as it fluttered down on what he would later call the remains, it was as if a curtain had been dropped on a stage, on a play. The end. That’s all, folks. He raised the flattened paper bag, but he knew he had nothing much to write. He didn’t need to make notes. He would never, ever forget any detail of what he saw.
Nor could he ever write the strange yet certain sentence forming in his head now, billowing like blood from a wound, giving him finality and assurance despite the almost depraved incongruity of the words. He fought against letting the sentence have life, but the battle only agitated him more. Blood soaked through the sheet and he saw again the macheted flesh. Henry was at war with himself now, working to keep the sentence at bay. But finally it burst through from nascent words to something whole. Then, as if the sentence were a physical manifestation, Henry turned, took two steps back, and covered a photographer’s open camera bag with a spray of vomit. But that couldn’t stop the words from surfacing. As the photographer protested, Henry only looked back at the draped body.
“Whatever happened to her,” he said to himself, “maybe she deserved it.”
© 2011 Doug Magee
Posted November 3, 2011
This story mostly follows a recovering alcoholic named Sean as he tries to figure out what happened to him through the bits and pieces he gets through his flashbacks . He knows someone died and he knows who it was. During his flashback, he even sees himself over the bloody remains. His doctors believe eventually he may remember more but think his memories maybe false memories, but no one can be sure.
I really enjoyed this mystery, crime story. I wasn't able to predict the ending, which is a big thing for me and mysteries. The more I am surprised, the more I like the mystery, as long as all the evidence was there. (No magical mystery person thrown in at the end.)
I enjoyed how the author would present a flashback and then, as people heard about what Sean remembered, that flashback would start to change people's minds about what really happened. For a while I wasn't sure if Sean was fighting for his sanity or his insanity!
Overall, I think this book would be great for anyone who enjoys mysteries and crime stories.
** Note **
I received this book free from Simon & Schuster's eGalleys in exchange for an honest review. I received no chocolate or any other compensation in exchange for my review.
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Posted August 21, 2011
In Braden, Pennsylvania Risa was married to Sean who became an alcoholic, had blackouts and at times failed to come home at night. In one nasty week, Sean vanished and Risa's best friend Carol was brutally murdered.
Ten years later, Risa is married to Alan who adopted Kevin, her son with Sean, as his. Alan is running for Congress. Sean rocks Risa's world when he calls Statesman reporter Henry to arrange a meeting the next day. He receives a pass from the hospital where he currently resides and Sean heads home to ask the journalist if he ever saw any pictures of Carol's death scene. Henry describes what he saw; Sean now knows for sure he killed Carol on the night he drove to New York as he knew the death scene and the bruises on the corpse before he heard the reporter's description. Sean goes to the local police but Alan has the authorities throw him out of town. Risa considers G.G who was convicted of the homicide is innocent as is she believes her first husband. As Risa risks her marriage, her social standing and her life (and that of her son), Alan does everything to get the one "evil" ex out of their lives.
Darkness All Around is an exciting romantic suspense that grips readers from the moment Sean returns to town. The cast is fully developed so that the audience understands what motivates the key players to behave the way they have now and a decade ago. Doug Magee writes a taut thriller in which the suspense is front and center while the romantic subplot supports the mystery.
Posted March 5, 2012
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