Title: Girl in the Dark
Author: Marion Pauw
Number of Pages: 317
Disclaimer time: I don’t read a lot of mysteries. It’s actually one of my least-read genres, along with romances and westerns. I specifically chose this book because one of the main characters is on the autism spectrum, which intrigued me. I ended up speeding right through it (every chapter was short and left me wanting more) but I had some issues with it in the long run. Some parts of it reminded me of House Rules by Jodi Picoult, and not in a good way.
Girl in the Dark is about a lawyer named Iris who has a lot of stress in her day-to-day life. She struggles to remain calm when in actuality she seems to be at the end of her rope. Her young son probably has undiagnosed autism and is frequently in trouble at day care, and her mom is filled with unhelpful advice. She’s defending a sex offender and feels torn between her duties as a mother and succeeding at her job. Sometimes she wishes she didn’t have her son, which makes her feel overwhelmingly guilty because she really does love him.
Iris’ world is turned upside down when she finds out she has a brother named Raymond who is in a mental institution. Her mom kept Raymond a secret from her and it’s easy to see why- years ago he was found guilty of the brutal murder of a woman and her young daughter. Unable to contain her curiosity, Iris goes to visit him and is surprised to discover he’s a seemingly gentle and thoughtful individual. Raymond has autism and was initially placed in prison but was later moved to a ward for people with issues and needs similar to his own. Iris suspects Raymond is not guilty and sets out to clear his name.
The book is told in Raymond and Iris’ alternating voices and follows a typical mystery format, with suspects, red herrings, and an eventual big reveal. It’s also very entertaining though sometimes disturbing, and you’re constantly waiting for the next bad thing to happen to the characters. Some details about Raymond didn’t seem to add up at times, there are moments throughout the novel where he seems way too socially intuitive for someone with his diagnosis. I know everybody with autism is different but I was still questioning the way he alternated between ‘getting it’ and ‘not getting it at all.’ It seemed uneven.
He’s also very high-functioning but was defecating all over the floor at age nine? Again, that doesn’t seem to make sense. I found young Raymond’s behavior towards the dog disturbing and even though someone can be fucked-up and apathetic AND have autism, I hope peoples’ takeaway isn’t that people on the spectrum are typically unfeeling and cruel towards animals. My main problem with Iris was that she jumped to conclusions too quickly about her brother’s innocence. Her takeaway from meeting Raymond seems to be he doesn’t seem like a sadistic killer so therefore he must not be. She seemed very naïve for a supposedly experienced and jaded lawyer.
Nevertheless, this was a well-written book with strong characterization and a twist I honestly didn’t see coming. I’m not usually all that good at guessing twists (my mom is a seasoned mystery reader and she’s great at it) but I thought the final reveal was very well pulled off. The closer you get to the end the crazier it gets and Iris’ pursuit of justice makes her an admirable, if not always likable, character.