Book Review: Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier
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: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Minotaur Books (July 19, 2022)
Length: 352 pages
Things We Do in the Dark is my favorite Jennifer Hillier novel yet! It’s deeper, more suspenseful, more complex, and simply written at a much higher caliber of proficiency and detail. This one was a bit of a slow burn and took me down a few garden paths, but at the end of it all, I was blown away.
The book opens on a bloody scene in a bathroom of a mansion in Seattle. Paris Peralta is stunned as the police rush in, catching her holding a straight razor and standing over her husband Jimmy’s lifeless body in the tub, his femoral artery slashed open. Everyone believes she killed him for his money, Jimmy being a wealthy comedian and many decades her senior, but Paris insists she had been at a convention and returned home to find him already dead. It helps that her lawyer, Jimmy’s longtime friend Elsie Dixon, is also on her side, but there’s in fact one thing Paris fears more than being wrongfully accused. The death of a high-profile celebrity like Jimmy is bound to bring unwanted attention which spells very bad news for Paris, who has a secret and has been trying to lay low for a very long time.
The story next switches tack to follow journalist Drew Malcolm in Toronto. The host of a true crime podcast, he receives word that the notorious killer Ruby Reyes, known as the Ice Queen, is about to be freed on parole after twenty-five years behind bars. Having been roommates and good friends with Ruby’s daughter Joey a long time ago, Drew has a particular interested in the case. Sadly, Joey died in an accidental house fire many years before, and if there’s one thing Drew wants to do in honor or his friend’s memory, it is to ensure that her abusive mother’s true story comes to light.
I confess, when the book made the very abrupt transition in character POV and setting, it was quite jarring, and it almost felt like I was reading two different books. To be honest, it’s easy to lose track between the threads, forgetting about Paris as you’re reading about Drew, and with all the flashbacks to his and Joey’s past slipped in there too, I think this element of the novel’s structure will pose the biggest stumbling block for readers. However, if you can get past it to form the connections and read until the big reveal, all will be answered and it’s a hundred percent worth it.
This story is also dark. Real dark. Joey’s childhood with her awful mother and her mother’s string of even more awful boyfriends broke my heart. And the crime that brought Ruby Reyes before a court and sent to prison (and earned her the Ice Queen moniker) was so brutal and disturbing. The truth and everything that really happened will come out though, and the twisty and brilliant way Hillier laid out the plot and connected all the dots was absolute perfection. You’ll end up feeling for these characters, sympathizing with their pain and loneliness, the guilt and fear and the heartache. This might not be the author’s most thrilling and fast-moving book, but I’ve known her work to be extremely hard-hitting emotionally, and Things We Do in the Dark is perhaps the most impactful of all.
There’s also a more personal reason why I loved this book so much, and it’s because a huge chunk of it takes place in Toronto, the author’s hometown and mine as well. The city in the flashback sections was brought to life just as I remember it, from the well-manicured university grounds and off-campus housing along its side streets to the seedier parts of downtown with its strip clubs and street gangs. Hillier must have done a lot of extra research on top of her own experience and knowledge to fill in the gaps, making the story and the characters’ lives even more realistic.
In short, Things We Do in the Dark has it all—murder mysteries that span multiple places and time, family drama, and a heart wrenching tale of survival. So much love for this book and Jennifer Hillier!