Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts - A K Benedict
Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts - A K Benedict ***
Sitting somewhere between regular crime fiction and urban fantasy Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts might not sit entirely satisfactorily in either camp. It has other peculiarities in its characterisation that also suggest being neither one thing nor another, but the ambiguity could be seen to actually work in its favour. At the very least, the nature of the crimes in its London setting and the implications they have for a wider view of the world (and other planes of existence) are fairly ambitious.
There are two strands to the crime investigation undertaken by London police detective DI Jonathan Dark here. In one of them, a blind woman is being stalked and threatened by a dangerous psychopath. Maria is a mudlark, searching for objects on the banks of the Thames and one of her digs has turned up a grisly find; an engagement ring left by Maria's stalker, still attached to the removed finger of its previous owner. Rather sinister in its own right, DI Dark however discovers that the ring itself is a special one, a yellow diamond created by a firm specialising in creating jewels from the ashes of dead loved ones.
The ring is connected to a second case that Jonathan Dark is involved in. Dark discovers that such rings are used by a secret group of powerful people who operate a kind of Masonic society who look after each other's interests and extending their wealth and privilege. To keep their existence secret and maintain a hold over its members, new recruits are called upon to show their commitment by murdering a designated person. One of the victims of the Ring is Finnegan Finch, an undertaker and crematorium manager who has refused to keep up his end of the bargain and has to pay the price himself.
As far as that goes, there are two interesting and ambitious connected crime investigations taking place here. In addition to that, the author manages to also paint some interesting character portraits of the personal lives of the people involved. Dark has the familiar police detective relationship problems, his marriage going through a rough patch that is heading toward a divorce, but he has some other character traits that place him in a kind of in-between state, neither one thing nor another. I can see no other reason for including the particular personal quirk in question into his characterisation. The same can be said of Maria who although she has had a successful operation that may have improved her sight, prefers to wear a blindfold and remain blind - even as she is being stalked by a dangerous individual.
As the title of the book indicates however, A.K. Benedict's novel is also concerned with another 'in-between' state, that of being dead and yet not dead. Finnegan Finch hasn't yet crossed over and it takes a while for him to even realise that he has been murdered. His friend Frank however has the ability to see and even live with ghosts, and - as crazy as it might seem - he's prepared to share his skill now with Jonathan Dark and relate what Finnegan knows about the circumstances of his death. This certainly places an interesting spin on things - as if any further spin were needed - but not everyone is going to be convinced by the author's 'evidence of ghosts'.
As this is a crime fiction novel however you can view the question of evidence in a number of ways, and it ties in nicely with the wider themes of Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts. The evidence of ghosts lies all around, the dead leaving traces behind to be found in old combs, pipes and soles of shoes in archaeological digs in the mud of the Thames, and evidence that the dead leave behind is also what the police often have to deal with. Benedict plays with the ambiguity that this creates, as well looking at things differently and using the senses differently, as in the case of the blind-but-not-blind Maria. If the evidence is there, the rationale is perhaps not as strong or convincing in the novel, but at the very least, this can be seen to be a quirky spin on the urban fantasy crime genre.
Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts is published by Orion on 25th February 2016