Hanover House is a penitentiary steeped in controversy. Established as a place for Dr Evelyn Talbot to study the behaviour patterns of psychopaths, it provides a home to some of the worst serial killers in the US, those who score the highest on the PCL-R, a test designed to identify people with strong psychopathic tendencies.
Hilltop’s local State Trooper, Sergeant Amarok, never wanted the prison built, certain that is it poses a threat to his community. And when a woman’s mutilated body is found in the town, it appears that his fears may have been realised. But with all of Hanover Houses residents safely locked away, who is the real threat within the once safe town.
One of Evelyn’s patients thinks he knows. Knowing that every one of their sessions is recorded, and determined to only speak to Evelyn in private, should she allow him another opportunity to attack her the way he had before she brought him to Hanover House? Given that he too is a killer can she really trust a word that he says?
When a macabre clue is left in Evelyn’s bed, she begins to wonder whether the murderer is someone a little closer to home. That the man who left her for dead and who had tortured her the year before had returned once more to finish what he had started.
With her job putting her in the sights of some of the most dangerous men in the country, including newly transferred inmate, Anthony Garza, Evelyn has every reason to be nervous. Her relationship with Amarok is uncertain, ghosts of her past stopping her from being able to fully trust him, and with someone within the prison seemingly trying to set her up to fail, her newly built life in Alaska seems destined to be over before it has really had a chance to begin.
‘Her Darkest Nightmare’ is an excellent psychological thriller. There is no shortage of suspects in the town of Hilltop, men with perhaps not the motive, but certainly the personality to suggest that they may be killers. The only problem with that theory is that they are all behind bars. And that is one of the great things about this story as you begin to wonder whether it may just be possible that one of them is guilty of the crimes befalling Hilltop. On top of that, the team that surround Evelyn is also fractured and perhaps questionable. From the very outspoken Dr Fitzgerald, to some of the quieter members of the team, you have to wonder if there is something suspect about their behaviour. There are certainly enough red herrings to make identifying the killer a little more complex.
In the characters of Evelyn and Amarok, Brenda Novak has created a very interesting dynamic. Attracted to each other, Evelyn has too many demons to let herself trust Amarok properly and Amarok if too stubborn to just walk away. The motivations of each are well rounded and explored and the natural antagonisms between them as they disagree over Evelyn’s chosen career and her reluctance to take a chance over their relationship are very well observed. Evelyn is strong in spite of her past ordeals and yet still understandably vulnerable. Amarok is determined, focused, passionate about his community and perhaps a touch tainted by his own family history. But he is patient with Evelyn, respected by his town and dominated by his Makita.
The setting is stark, Alaska’s natural darkness due to the short winter days adding a touch of menace to an already gripping plot. In fact, the setting almost acts as a character in itself. The location is isolated, the town unprepared for any of the evil that has crossed its path and yet the landscape if unyielding and threatening with its relentless storms cutting the community off from the outside world. It drives away all but the strongest of personalities and those who have no choice other than to be there, or no desire to be anywhere else.
There were periods of real tension throughout, the feeling of dread that arose each time Evelyn met with her more violent patients. The suspicion that perhaps her former lover had really returned to hunt her once more. The opening chapter gives the reader an insight into a little of what Evelyn suffered all those years ago, a story which is hinted at further throughout the novel. More importantly the ending gives us a glimpse of what is still to come. I can see that some may have been looking for perhaps a more explosive ending that we were offered, but perhaps that was the point. Evelyn has built her life around looking for the reasons why people kill. Sometimes it is not as obvious as people may expect. Not all psychopaths are killers and not all killers are psychopaths. Where this stories killer fits – you’ll just have to work out for yourself.
It is an intriguing idea – dozens of psychotic killers all in locked in one place – and I am looking forward to seeing where the series moves onto next. A very satisfied 5 stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and publishers Headline for the advance copy of ‘Her Darkest Nightmare’ by Brenda Novak in exchange for my review.
‘Her Darkest Nightmare’ is released on 25th August (UK) and 30th August (US) and is available here: