[Book Review] Romance Author Strikes Horror Gold With ‘The Darkling’

The Darkling Cover

Author Carolyn Haines is into a little bit of everything. Primarily known for a series of humorous crime novels set in the Mississippi Delta (The Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries), Haines is a prolific author who has published in multiple genres under multiple pseudonyms. Not only has she penned a dozen or so Harlequin romance novels (seriously), she even dispenses online relationship advice in the Southern Belle drawl of a ghost named Ms. Jetty. This Haines lady is the ultimate multitasker.

Pegasus Books is releasing her upcoming novel The Darkling under yet another pseudonym, “R.B. Chesterton“, a sweet mobster alias if I ever heard one. Although a few of Haines‘ previous novels have dabbled in the supernatural, The Darkling is a shockingly good horror novel for an author who merely dabbles.

In this unsettling piece of American gothic, the arrival of a 16-year-old foster child results in the unraveling of a close-knit family, arousing the suspicions of their young nanny. With its 1974 setting and slow burn narrative, The Darkling is a throwback to a time when the novels of Ira Levin and Thomas Tryon ruled bookshelves, when the most popular horror novels were both literary and scary.

The hardbound release hits bookstores on April 1. Read on for the full review.

In The Darkling, narrator Mimi has found her dream job as a live-in nanny for the wealthy Hendersons. As full-time educator to children Margo, Erin and Donald, the 21-year-old college girl lives with the family at Belle Fleur, a run-down Alabama mansion with a mysterious past. Mimi is content in her place in the family, and conflicts are rare, at least until 16-year-old Annie, an amnesiac orphan found wandering the streets of Mobile, is invited to live with the Hendersons.

With Annie’s arrival comes mind games and mounting jealousy, especially from teenage Margo, who seems to view Annie as a threat. When Margo unexpectedly vanishes, the family assumes she’s left town with her thug boyfriend, but Mimi suspects that Annie is somehow involved. Mimi has seen a strange girl lurking in the woods near the mansion, watching the children from afar––a girl that looks just a bit like Annie. Does Annie have a mysterious accomplice, or is the naïve, virginal Mimi merely imagining things?

When crafting a horror novel centered on a malevolent child, it can be hard to capture the subtle manipulations that children and teenagers are capable of. Haines hits all the right notes with Annie, a wide-eyed, sweet-natured innocent with the power to morph into an unassailable bitch once the adults have their backs turned. She’s one of those villains you love to hate; I found myself openly rooting for her comeuppance with each passing chapter.

But it’s Haines’ knack for good, old-fashioned storytelling that truly sets The Darkling apart. The scares are parceled out sparingly, but assuredly. After the first few chapters, I found myself saving the novel for late nights, when I could pour a cup of coffee, light a lamp in a dark room, and allow the hyper-eerie visuals to seep into my bones. While Haines has found previous success with crime and romance, The Darkling may be proof of her true calling.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Skulls

  • BabyJaneHudson

    Sounds like the perfect novel for cold winter nights. I love a good, gory horror movie, but I like something with some weight and depth to it when reading. Count me in.