Thursday, 3 December 2015

An Introduction to the Darke - review of Michael Wood's 'For Reasons Unknown'

Two murders. Twenty years. Now the killer is back for more…

With so many great crime writers and series around today (Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Stuart McBride, Leigh Russell, Karen Long to name but a few), it can be difficult to find something which stands out from the crowd...that not only strays from the well-beaten path but offers a new take on a classic tale.

Fortunately, that question can be easily counteracted by Michael Wood’s compelling and fast-paced ‘For Reasons Unknown’ who has just, in my opinion, ended up in that list I just mentioned.

We are introduced to a little boy in the prologue, Jonathan Harkness, who is so traumatised by the crime he has witnessed he is virtually catatonic. This plot point is swiftly moved past in order to propel the story towards an introduction to the fascinating and fantastically named protagonist, Matilda Darke (up there with my other favourite name, Eleanor Raven from Karen Long’s crime series!!!) and the discovery of a dead body twenty years later.
Matilda is an amazing character, full of personal mystery which is slowly teased a throughout the story in relation to an incident which forced her to take some time out. Returning to work she not only finds herself almost immediately embroiled in a case which resonates back to some of the details in the prologue and challenged with rebuilding a relationship with her former partner who has stepped up in her absence and feels he is where he should be, but offered a chance at some personal redemption and closure. Michael crafts his characters with expert care, imbuing not only Matilda and Ben with personality, angst and pathos, but also ensuring that their backstories and the unveiling murder plot are slowly metered out accordingly, leaving you as the reader desperate to know more but not so informed that you can work out where the story is headed immediately. In fact, every character gets their screen time, with no line of dialogue or description lack in context or relevance.

I have never been to Sheffield (apologies for anyone from Sheffield reading this!), but his descriptions of the local area and surrounding landscape are vivid and intricate, which allowed me to visualise the setting pretty well (again, having never been to Sheffield for a basis of comparison!). 
There are more than a few twists and turns which ensure you are always doing the old ‘24’ justification of “I’ll just read one more to see what happens!”

As for the little boy in mentioned at the beginning and the trauma he witnessed (not spoiling anything here folks, the blurb mentions the murder of his parents), the manner in which the present day murder and the crime Jonathan witnessed dovetail together is expertly crafted and told with such skill it is hard to believe this is Michael’s first novel. And they say that a story’s protagonist is only as good as the antagonist, so let me just say that the ‘bad guy (s) in ‘For Reasons Unknown’ are creepy, memorable and pretty twisted!

I cannot recommend this book enough. I could say so much more, but you need to discover it for yourself as there are red herrings and misdirection’s aplenty alongside the fast-paced plotting and cliff-hanger chapters (short for the most part but this works well in building the suspense). And the ending is particularly mournful and appropriate, leaving a lasting image in your mind.

Michael Wood is up there with the best of them, which considering he has done it in one book is pretty impressive. I, for one, cannot wait to see how DCI Darke’s story unfolds in subsequent novels!

10 out of 10!!

Michael Wood is a proofreader and former journalist in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. His first novel, FOR REASONS UNKNOWN is released in ebook format by Killer Reads at HarperCollins in October 2015. It is the first in a series of crime fiction novels set in Sheffield featuring DCI Matilda Darke.

For Reasons Unknown is available on, and here

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