A Complicated Puzzle Gets Closer To Solution In 'The Dark Above' In Jeremy Finley's followup to The Darkest Time of Night, too many plot threads tangle the story — but his strong, well-realized women are a welcome presence in this supernatural thriller.
NPR logo A Complicated Puzzle Gets Closer To Solution In 'The Dark Above'

A Complicated Puzzle Gets Closer To Solution In 'The Dark Above'

Last year I reviewed The Darkest Time of Night, Jeremy Finley's debut sci-fi thriller, and mentioned that I believed Finley might have sequels planned. Ta-dah! It's 2019, and The Dark Above, the second in a series centered on the Roseworth family of Tennessee has arrived. While some of you may have devoured The Darkest Time of Night already, many of you probably haven't — so I'm going to try and keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.

Like the first volume, The Dark Above contains all sorts of intrigue, much of it government-related, involving a secret project run by mad-genius scientist Steve Richardson, for whom one Senator Tom Roseworth's wife Lynn once worked. Lynn, along with her kooky best friend Roxie, return here, but their roles are eclipsed by action surrounding Lynn's beloved grandson William Chance.

William has, to put it mildly, been through a lot. Lynn and Roxie rescued him from abduction in the first book, and he spent the rest of his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood trying to fit in with family and peers who were constantly curious about why he was taken. At 23, he winds up hiding out voluntarily in a trailer and working on a construction crew, hoping to keep his head down and avoid any connection to the spooky secrets he knows his body holds.

However, other bodies hold secrets, too, including Lynn's. As the book opens, she's transfixed by a swarm of ladybugs behind the Roseworth home, and by "transfixed," I mean "freaked out." She starts babbling to Roxie about bleeding from her ears and "Is it happening to me?" Something is wrong, not just with William, not just with Lynn, but maybe with the very natural order of things.

Speaking of natural order, even though this book spends more time with other members of the Roseworth clan, major props should be given to Jeremy Finley for starting and continuing a series that highlights older women and continues to pay attention to them as they age. In The Dark Above, Lynn and Roxie have reached their 80s. Their knees ache, they worry about each other's balance, and their children and grandchildren sometimes fuss over them too much.

But if I felt, in my first review, that Lynn was somewhat of a cipher, in this book I can say that it's wonderful to see her again, to know that she's still in the game and still part of the mystery, too. Few authors in this or any other genre pay attention to, let alone feature, women past the age of 40. Finley must have been raised right; he portrays women in this novel realistically as children, matrons, professionals, and matriarchs.

One of those women is a child. Lily appears almost from nowhere, talking about a girl trapped in a mountain and convinced that she has to find William, with whom she can communicate telepathically. Lily may have strange abilities, but she's still a kid, one who is thrilled by a pair of unicorn-patterned pajamas.

I do have cavils about The Dark Above. One would be that there are too many plot devices in all. Readers have to balance the original mystery (it involves Lynn, but also a long-ago girl in the same woods) with William's disappearance and recovery, then Lily's appearance and pronouncements, plus an eccentric millionaire, a fire-starting migrant worker, William's powerful aunt Kate — also a senator, and a troupe of government baddies who want nothing more than to control anything powerful and supernatural. It's a lot to take in, even if it does keep the action quotient high.

Too much to take in means also means that it's easy to miss some of the important moments, the ones that will be even more important in the next book Finley adds to this interesting series. But if he doesn't give us enough time with any single character to develop our own interest, readers may not continue to follow the series at all.

I did love Kate Roseworth's contemplation of her own power and appearance (she's often referred to as "Senator Barbie" by colleagues). I also loved Lynn and Roxie's involvement, and I wanted more of it because, face it, those octogenarians won't live forever in this series (maybe a prequel is in the works?), and strong female friendships deserve more attention in every kind of thriller. Yes, I compared them to Thelma and Louise in my previous review — but that doesn't mean they have to wind up driving off a cliff. Sometimes, they wind up providing the ultimate clue in a complicated puzzle, one that won't be completely solved in this book.

Bethanne Patrick is a freelance writer and critic who tweets @TheBookMaven.