The problem I had with an earlier book of Honey Brown's was that whilst the thriller aspects of the book really worked, I was less convinced by the post-apocalyptic scenario and the happy ever after ending. AFTER THE DARKNESS solved those personal prejudices, and presented me with a thriller that worked on just about every level.
I just love thrillers that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, that present a scenario that's unexpected, quietly disconcerting and extremely worrying. Particularly where the tension ramps up, the outcome's not immediately apparent, and the resolution ambiguous. AFTER THE DARKNESS takes a pretty normal married couple, successful in their business, happy in their family life and their love and relationship together, and in one seemingly innocent outing, rips that into little tiny itty bitty shreds. It then takes these two traumatised individuals, Bruce and Trudy Harrison, and makes everything a whole lot worse.
Whilst the ramp up is nicely paced, what really works in AFTER THE DARKNESS is the realness of the whole thing. Of course a holidaying couple would take a short bypass to an art gallery on the road back home. Of course they would fail to recognise the menace until it was too late (not everyone goes around expecting the worst after all!). Of course they would do whatever it took to save each other. Of course they would struggle to talk about the shocking situation they found themselves in afterwards. Of course they would react when the threat continues, and of course they would do what ever it takes when the threat gets too close to home.
All of which adds up to one of those much touted, and often not achieved, "unputdownable book". But AFTER THE DARKNESS truly was very difficult to put down. The writing is taut and subtle, the tension is built within the reader's head, as it builds in the characters lives. There are clever differences in the plot which give Brown options to explore the couple's individual and combined reactions and relationships giving the book a refreshingly different outlook. The characterisations aren't stereotypical - Bruce and Trudy may be a married couple, but their roles and reactions aren't limited by their gender and standard expectation. There's cross-over and ambiguity in their reactions, actions, and responsibilities. It's that realness thing again - they seem like very real people, in a very real scenario that's spiralling rapidly.
It's actually not that often that I find myself immersed in a book that I truly can't put down. Not only was AFTER THE DARKNESS one of the best thrillers of it's kind I've read in a long time, it gave me a chance to work long and hard on some good "can't sorry... reading" excuses.