BLURB: 1946, Texarkana: a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. Disgraced New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story of a spate of brutal murders – young couples who’ve been slaughtered at a local date spot. Charlie finds himself drawn into the case by the beautiful and fiery Lizzie, sister to one of the victims, Alice – the only person to have survived.
But Charlie has his own demons to fight, and as he starts to dig into the murders he discovers that the people of Texarkana have secrets that they want kept hidden at all costs. Before long, Charlie discovers that powerful forces might be protecting the killer, and as he investigates further his pursuit of the truth could cost him more than his job…
Loosely based on true events, The Dark Inside is a compelling and pacy thriller that heralds a new voice in the genre. It will appeal to fans of RJ Ellory, Tom Franklin, Daniel Woodrell and True Detective.
So, here we are on the final date of The Dark Inside blog tour. Can I add anything to the superlatives that have been heaped on this book by my fellow crime bloggers – the majority of whom are much more eloquent than me? I’ll do my best – here goes…
When I saw the cover of this book, I asked Rod Reynolds on Twitter if the US version had a different cover (it’s something of a fascination of mine, how different countries choose different covers, and what appeals where.) I was gobsmacked when he said that he wasn’t American, and this was the first edition of the book. Doesn’t it look brilliantly dark and menacing (and very American)? As well it should, as this is a darkly brilliant book. Even more incredible is the fact that it’s his debut novel – yes, I know I say that way too much, but I really felt I was in the hands of a highly experienced writer. It was also incredibly cinematic – more on that later.
When Charlie Yates, our exiled reporter, first reaches Texarkana, “A sign at the town limits read TEXARKANA USA is TWICE AS NICE. A dog cocked its leg and took a piss against it as I passed.” His coat is on a very shoogly peg, as we say up here, at The New York Examiner, and his marriage is over. He’s basically been banished to the middle of nowhere to get rid of him from the office. Initially, no-one in the town will speak to him about the murders. But gradually a few people give him snippets here and there, on the QT. He befriends Lizzie, the sister of the only surviving victim. Also, a barman, Richard Davis, claims to have seen one of the victims arguing with a GI the night she was murdered. However, the two lawmen, Sheriff Bailey of Bowie County, Texas, and his sidekick, Lieutenant Sherman of Texarkana City Police, have their eye on Yates, and won’t have any city reporter showing up what looks like questionable investigative skills. They refuse to even link the two attacks on the courting couples. Then there’s a third couple murdered, again on a Saturday night. Yates warns the lawmen they have a week before he strikes again. Meanwhile, local businessman Winfield Callaway offers a $20,000 reward to catch the killer, which only serves to send the lawmen off on lots of pointless calls. However, Yates thinks he’s found a link between at least some of the victims – but the killer’s motive remains shrouded in mystery. Saying any more would take me into spoiler territory, and I definitely don’t want to do that – I want everyone who reads this thriller to enjoy the way it unwinds as much as I did.
I mentioned the word “cinematic” earlier, and if I could have a dream team who could make this into a movie, it’d be Cary Grant as Yates, Katherine Hepburn as Lizzie, and I’d have Hitch behind the lens. However, as they are all no longer with us, I guess I’d make do with Scorsese in the director’s chair. Or perhaps Nic Pizzolatto could redeem himself for the somewhat messy second season of True Detective. (Not asking much, really…)
I read a lot of crime fiction, and with many books I can fairly easily figure out who the perpetrator is. Not so here. The misdirection was subtly brilliant, and I defy anyone to unknot the tangled web he weaves. I love anything Southern Gothic, and if you enjoy that particular aspect of this book, you’ll love John Berendt’s Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (which is included in my Top Ten Non-Fiction Books – https://crimeworm.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/top-ten/ ) I’d also point you in the direction of James Lee Burke – The Tin Roof Blowdown, about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is a masterpiece – but then, all his books are, particularly those featuring Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel. After all, we’re going to need some reading material while Rod Reynolds works on the follow-up to The Dark Inside! If you haven’t yet read this, get to it – it’s going to be on a lot of end-of-year “Best Of…” lists, including mine. I know I’m often too kind about some books, but this one really is a corker. You can thank me later.
Kindly, Rod took the time to write a piece for me on why he chose Texarkana as his setting – it’s a fascinating place:
I’ve written previously about the inspiration for my debut novel, The Dark Inside, and the real life case of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders on which it is based. But that was only the starting point. As I delved more into the history of the killings, what was it about Texarkana in 1946 that convinced me to set my story there?
Texarkana is an interesting place. Commonly referred to as ‘Texarkana, USA’, it is actually two towns – one in Texas, one in Arkansas, each with its own emergency services, city legislature and local laws. The state border runs right through the middle of town, so that when travelling on the main drag – State Line Avenue – the northbound lane is in Arkansas, and the southbound in Texas. Several of the buildings there make a feature of this – the US Post Office and Courthouse sits on an island in the middle of State Line, making it the only federal building in America to straddle two states. Similarly, the now -shuttered Union Station had a Texas-side entrance, and an Arkansas-side entrance, just yards apart.
At first, this seemed like nothing more than a geographic quirk – but as I thought about it more, I realised there was a potential dichotomy here to be used in the novel. Questions came to mind: did the various police agencies from different states get on? Or did petty rivalries open the door for incompetence – or, even, something more sinister? And what about the citizens – did tribalism affect their attitudes towards people who might live just a few streets away, but in a different state? These were all interesting themes to play with, in a novel which, in many ways, is about the different sides to my protagonist’s character, and the battle that takes place between his best and worst self.
There were other factors at play, too, that made Texarkana an appealing setting. The novel is set in the immediate aftermath of WW2. Our notion of post-war America is as a land of plenty, untouched by the ravages of war. And yet Texarkana, known as ‘The Gateway to the Southwest’, was a major railroad hub for returning servicemen – so in February 1946, the town was overrun with GIs. That notion intrigued me – a small town thousands of miles from any theatre of conflict, suddenly confronted with the reality of the war. And not all of the servicemen were headed someplace else; many of the local lawmen had taken up positions in the armed forces during the war, and were now returning to their old jobs; how had the experience affected them? What would it do to a sheriff’s deputy, in a rural town in middle America, to have seen action on the Western Front?
In February 2014 I travelled to Texarkana, to get a feel for the town first-hand. It’s still an interesting place; much of the old downtown is still there, but now abandoned. Iconic buildings that feature in the novel are still standing, but only as eerie empty shells. The town has sprawled, and modern Texarkana is like so many other small American cities – mile after mile of strip malls, freeways, and pretty suburban houses made of red brick or white clapboard. The people were friendly and welcoming. And yet walking around the near-deserted streets of ‘old’ Texarkana, something about the dilapidated shell of the Hotel Grim, the barricaded Union Station, and all the other crumbling buildings, evoked in me the idea that part of Texarkana had never really moved on from the events of 1946. That those few blocks were like a headstone; a reminder of a time when the whole town was paralysed with fear by the killings – too macabre to preserve, but too important to let go of entirely. Left, instead, to slip away slowly, like a fading memory.
The Dark Inside by Rod Reynolds is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)
My thanks to Sophie at Faber & Faber for pointing this one in my direction and including me in the blog tour, and to Rod for writing a piece for me.