I knew I had to read A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez the moment I read the first review mentioning that a previous stand-alone mystery by Sherez received raves from one of my favourite authors, James Sallis (Lew Griffin series, John Turner series, Drive, etc.)
In a jacket blurb, Sallis lauds Sherez’s The Devil’s Advocate:
‘Demonstrating rare intelligence, brilliantly structured, beautifully written, this is the finest first novel I have read in some time. It is altogether extraordinary, and introduces a major talent.’
Since James Sallis considered Stav Sherez’ first published novel ‘brilliantly structured’ and ‘altogether extraordinary’, I was pretty confidant that A Dark Redemption, the series debut of DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller would be a ‘must read’ for me.
I was not disappointed.
Here’s an overview of A Dark Redemption excerpted from Ali Karim’s review in shotsmag.co.uk:
Carrigan bears the scars of a visit he and two University friends made to Northern Uganda many years previously. While his partner Miller, has her own demons due to her recent demotion from Detective Sergeant due to ‘irregularities’ – she is assigned to work with Carrigan with the promise of reinstatement to her former rank as the incentive. The covert part of Miller’s role is to keep watch and report back on DI Jack Carrigan’s activities to the fifth floor. Miller’s unease at the assignment is a microcosm of the novel’s narrative structure, as a feeling of unease is striated across the novel as the two detectives delve under the surface of London ’s African-Immigrant community, and discover that there are complex agendas at play.
The case that binds Carrigan and Miller and provides the backbone to the novel is that of the brutal rape, torture and murder of an overseas student Grace Okello from Uganda . Carrigan considers initially that Grace’s horrific end was related to her abusive boyfriend, though Miller is less convinced, as she sees links to the murdered girl’s academic research into the armed conflicts in her native Uganda . As the case progresses, the odd coupling of the troubled duo starts to take shape. They soon see this case having tendrils that stretch back to Africa , and the horrific backdrop of child soldiers and terror that groups such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] exploited
Backstory in A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez
A quick skim down the contents page told me that backstory, in the form of flashbacks, dictated the basic structure A Dark Redemption, and once I’d read a few chapters I found myself noting how deftly the writer used snippets of backstory to reveal his protagonists’ characters, suggesting motives for their behavior, insinuating new mysteries, and prompting reader curiosity.
A Dark Redemption begins with London DI Jack Carrigan’s memory of an after-grad trip gone wrong; on a whim, he and two uni friends, Ben and David, traveled to Northern Uganda, and in the middle of the night took a wrong fork in the road – a random choice that lead to them being captured by a rebel army.
They had driven for an hour on the fork when they saw the first flicker of the fires.
Ben slowed the car instinctively, the wild raging light making them blind to the darkness. When their eyes adjusted they saw the roadblock, the logs stretched across the dirt track, the blazing fires crackling wildly in the breeze, and then they saw the eyes of the soldiers glaring at them, guns drawn and pointed. Ben brought the car to a stop and they began to make out voices, barking orders, shouting Get out!, shouting Mzungu!, the soldiers’ guns flickering in the firelight, the black barrels staring at them like the gouged-out eyes of some implacable god.
There the narrative shifts to the present where backstory intervenes almost immediately as we learn that one of Jack’s university friends is dead:
Carrigan walked through the park trying to shake off the previous night. He’d arrived back from the coast late, scraped the mud from David’s grave off his shoes and fell heavily onto the sofa where he’d awoken crumpled and cramped this morning. It had been a last-minute decision; he’d be down there with Ben in a couple of weeks but something yesterday had called him, a pulse beating behind his blood.
I’d initially thought I’d explore how the three main flashback segments of the book impact the storyline and give us insights into Carrigan’s character, but I quickly realized I’d be getting too much into ‘spoiler’ territory. Instead, as I’d begun to note that there were other instances of backstory unrelated to the Uganda connection that kept cropping up and piquing my curiosity, I decided to focus on these.
But before I leave the structural flashback connection, I want to comment on how well I think it works that DS Miller is the one who pursues the Uganda connection, at times going against DI Carrigan’s wishes. His refusal to confront issues from his past reinforces our recognition of a man who has trouble facing painful truths. Yes, Jack Carrigan is definitely a moody sleuth!
Back story builds character in A Dark Redemption
DS Geneva Miller’s part in A Dark Redemption is somewhat subordinate to that of DI Jack Carrigan, though thankfully we’re given enough snippets of backstory to give us a strong-minded, strong principled woman, not without problems of her own, whom I definitely look forward to following into the next installment. Love it that her mother, a poet, instilled a fervent respect for ‘close reading’:
She scanned and reread. She made notes in a fresh notebook, drew up timelines and lists of questions. She went through Carrigan’s first-on-the-scene report, impressed by his concise use of language, so refreshing after the vague and rambling summaries of the uniforms. She scrutinised the text, forcing it to give up its meanings. This was what her mother had taught her to do. This was her childhood, squeezed into small rooms, always moving from one to the next, evenings next to her mother, scanning dense passages of Modernist poetry.
‘You have to learn to read closely,’ she remembered her mother saying, and she, maybe twelve or thirteen at the time, leaning forward, pressing her face up against the pages until her mother laughed. That carefree but shadowed laugh that could only have come from eastern Europe. Saying, ‘No, dear. Not like that.’ Her words both a kindness and a criticism.
Geneva Miller’s passion for research will serve her well in her partnership with DI Jack Carrigan.
Backstory as unfinished business in A Dark Redemption
Departing from the main plot of A Dark Redemption, I made a point of noting how recurring snippets of backstory crop up in DI Carrigan’s life, and found that I could slot each instance into one of the following categories:
- relationships with co-workers and superiors – why don’t they see him as a ‘real cop’?
- cold cases – the missing boys
- Louise – death of his wife
Of course there’s oodles more to be said about these, and about their contribution to our understanding of DI Jack Carrigan, and I intend to explore them more fully very soon.