Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: May 10, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
It’s been noted how America’s preoccupation with true crime has seen a disturbing uptick since the onset of the pandemic. Especially amongst females. Whether it’s books, podcasts, television, or movies we seem to want more. I admit to being a part of the problem.
All of this is the lead-in to the book I’m reviewing today. Dark Circles is by Caite Dolan-Leach and follows a TV celebrity from her ignominious fall from grace into rehab a spiritual retreat. Olivia Reed was riding high (literally) until drugs, pills, and poor judgment led to the kind of bad publicity that doesn’t disappear. Her oldest friend and publicist, Jess, finds a retreat, House of Light, in upstate New York that looks like the perfect place for a B-list celebrity to regroup in private. Liv signs on and hands over her phone and iPad thinking yoga, meditation, and juice cleanses might be a good idea.
Once settled, Liv meets Ava, a local woman who checks in periodically to detox. Like Liv, Ava thinks the ‘mission’ of House of Light is a bit much. She goes even further, telling Liv about a recent suicide nearby and her theory about House of Light. A theory that the deaths of four women over the past several years were not suicides, but part of some cult ritual.
Liv is intrigued and bored, but after breaking the rules one too many times she’s asked to leave. She can’t go back to NYC, but needs a way to boost her brand so decides to investigate the suicides and share her findings in a podcast. She begins, the response is big, but the more she probes the more complicated it becomes.
There is so much to unpack in Dark Circles. Sometimes this can be a good thing in a mystery/suspense novel. Other times, it’s problematic. Unfortunately, it’s the latter here. The novel is weighed down with a plethora of plotlines and ancillary characters. There is so much motive and so many unreliable characters, but none of them can gain traction, meaning it took me two weeks of intermittent reading to finish the book. It’s painful to admit you no longer enjoy an author, but that’s the case with Dolan-Leach. I adored her debut, Dead Letters, but her second novel faltered, and Dark Circles, plunged to an ignominious death.
The one takeaway that I appreciated and that sheds light on my initial comments about women’s fascination with true crime is this thought from a key character:
So when I read or hear about a story where someone has annihilated a female body—or, better yet, several female bodies, ones that maybe look like mine—I feel, in a strange way, less crazy. Less paranoid. Because I can feel the hatred, but I’ve been told so many times that it’s in my head, that I’m exaggerating or confused. But when I hear a story of a man destroying women simply because they are women, I feel vindicated for this state of vigilance I’ve existed in my whole life.
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