Book Review: Dark Pattern by Andrew Mayne
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 4 of The Naturalist
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (October 15th 2019)
Length: 316 pages
These Naturalist books tend to be “one day reads” for me, and Dark Pattern, which got devoured in two reading sessions over a matter of hours, was definitely no exception. I love this series so much, and I just knew this novel would be another unputdownable mystery, which is why I’m glad I had the foresight to clear my schedule to devote an entire afternoon to reading, because bloody hell, this one was addictive.
Once again, Dr. Theo Cray is on the case, though he’s had a lot more on his mind since the last time we saw him. If you have not caught up to this point in the series yet, please bear in mind this review may contain some spoilers for the previous books. While each novel features a self-contained story, the events in them do add up to affect the protagonist in a big way, as evidenced at the beginning of Dark Pattern, which sees Theo fretting over his exposure to a dangerous virus at the conclusion of Murder Theory. While his reputation for catching serial killers has all but destroyed his prospects in the educational and research fields, at least he still has his logical mind and moral compass—for the time being, anyway. And he’s going to need all his wits about him if he’s to solve his next big case, brought forth to him by a nursing professional concerned that a corrupt local hospital system may be shielding the activities of a serial killer nurse who is targeting patients.
Following this tip leads Theo to several families who have lost their children to routine hospital care, with the cause of death a mystery. The one common factor is a nurse who has worked with or around the children immediately prior to their deaths, and the pattern is enough to make Theo suspicious and take a closer look. But what he ends up uncovering is so much worse, including corrupt bureaucrats who knew something fishy was going on but refused to do anything, as well as the manipulation of patient statistics to hide the truth.
Gosh, the stuff you read in this book will send chills running down your spine, and what’s even more frightening is how much of the bad conditions are based on truth, if news you see on corruption in healthcare or my own experiences working in hospitals are anything to go by. Dark Pattern is up there as one of the darker novels in the series, both because of story’s themes and what happens to our main character. Being hospitalized is unpleasant enough as it is, but it’s also a place where people should be able to put themselves and their loved ones in the trust of healthcare workers who are supposed to help heal them. The plot’s premise of a serial killer stalking along the antiseptic halls looking for his prey among the ill, the old, and little helpless children made my skin crawl.
And then of course, we come to Theo. He’s been slowly losing it for a while now, pushing his luck (and limits) when it comes to how far he’s willing to go to solve a case. He continues this trend in Dark Pattern, but now his methods and actions have become even bolder and more extreme. While his heart is still in the right place, you can really tell Theo is well on his way down a slippery slope. While this concerns him, the irony is that he’s probably worried for all the wrong reasons, and without revealing too much about the ending, I have to say his lack of perspective and eventual loss of grip on the situation really surprised me.
Which brings me to the elephant in the room. Let’s just say I loved this book for the most part, and was all prepared to throw it a five star rating until the last few chapters happened. Again, without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that this section didn’t quite jive with everything that came before. The conclusion itself was rather underwhelming, and it also almost felt as if the author suddenly ran up against a hard deadline and had to rush through the rest of the book. I can’t deny this was a bit disappointing, though to tell the truth, this bizarre shift made me feel more confused than anything. This is because in a way, the end of Dark Pattern felt like a sort of “soft reset” for Dr. Theo Cray. It pretty much places the series at a place where the story and character can go in any number of new directions, so I suppose just about anything can happen now.
It gives me great hope for a fifth installment. While Dark Pattern didn’t exactly wow me with its ending, the rest of the book and its mystery plot was solid. I look forward to seeing where The Naturalist series will go next.