To be perfectly honest, I wasn't anxious to read Dark Memories by Jeffrey S. Savage. I'm not comfortable with the amount of paranormal, occult, and horror type books currently being written by LDS authors and I'd heard a few rumors of demons and apparitions in this book. Still, I've always enjoyed Savage's books and decided to give it a try. It's as superbly written as I expected, and yes, there's darkness, a demon, and a fair share of supernatural events, but it's not gory, and a redemptive twist puts a positive light on the story.
Cal is a recently widowed police chief in a small Colorado town. The death of a woman in a case of assumed domestic abuse develops into much more when the woman's death is followed closely by the vicious axe murder of a man who had been her childhood playmate and who had been lost with her and four other children in an abandoned mine thirty years ago. Cal learns that only five of the six children were found and rescued and there seems to be some kind of pact between the survivors to never tell what happened inside the mine.
A lot of blame and anger still lingers. The community blamed the vice-principal and teacher's aide who accompanied the children on their last-day-of-school picnic. The missing boy's mother blames the other children for the loss of her son. The daughter of the mine owner is mentally unbalanced and is sheltered by her brother from Cal's search for answers. Another girl, now a grown woman, will do anything to protect her husband's political career. Could the accident that befalls the remaining boy be attempted murder rather than an accident? Is there some twisted revenge motive at play? What does an old farmer's dispute with the water board have to do with Cal's investigation?
Cal isn't a religious man. He doesn't believe in an afterlife, nor does he have patience with the clues that indicate the missing child has something to do with the murders. The only haunting he believes in is the terrible loneliness he feels without his wife and the knowledge that has come with twenty years of police work of the decomposition taking place in her grave. Sometimes he catches himself wishing he could believe she was in a happy place with the flowers she loved to grow. The case is troubling and he can't help believing the other survivors of that long ago disaster are in danger. His closest confidant becomes the old Indian engineer, the man who found the missing children five days after their disappearance, who believes passionately in spirits, talismans, and an ongoing battle between good and evil.
Savage delivers characters that suffer a wide gamut of emotions and motives. He explores the good and evil that lurk in every mind. Guilt and the toll it exacts are real and clear as it plays out in different ways in different minds. It's easy to sympathize with the characters in this story and feel like they are real people. Some of the supernatural aspects are a little harder to swallow.
The story arc begins in a compelling way that builds as the story progresses. I have some problems with the ending, but won't go into that here. It's an engrossing story and though I have some issues with some points in it, Savage deals with the horror elements in a tasteful way and most readers won't find the book offensive. Mystery/Suspense readers will love the intriguing mystery that unfolds.
Jeffrey S. Savage who also writes as J. Scott Savage, is the author of eight published novels with a couple more under contract. He's written several LDS novels, but is perhaps best known for his general market fantasy series for young readers. He and his wife with their four children live in Utah.
* * *
DARK MEMORIES by Jeffrey S. Savage, published by Covenant Communications, soft cover, 358 pages, $17.99. Also available on Kindle.