In the Dark by Loreth Ann White Review and Analysis

Note: This is a repost from a literature/film analysis blog I ran for a college class in 2020. The original post was published on September 13, 2020.

Spoiler-Free Review

I bought this book on a whim because the Amazon blurb reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The similarities are no mistake — In the Dark is a very self-aware love letter to Christie’s masterpiece.

White skillfully creates a Christie-esque closed circle mystery, with satisfying pacing and a palpable sense of suspense. In the Dark is compellingly readable, keeping readers guessing for most of it’s length. Unfortunately, the story does stumble in some places.

The book has two parallel storylines. I found myself thinking of them as the “murder game” storyline, which follows the eight strangers being slowly killed off, and the “police procedural” storyline, which follows the police investigation of the murders. I could have done without the police procedural bits. The constant switching back and forth broke up the pacing of both storylines, and I found the procedural bits boring — I couldn’t wait to get back to the mind games and murder. The balance between the two storylines gets especially out of whack in the final third of the book, and I felt like the climax was much weaker than what came before.

I also had issues with who the killer was and what their motivation was, but I obviously can’t get into that without spoiling the ending.

This is a fun book for Agatha Christie fans looking for a quick and compelling read, but isn’t without its flaws.

Final Rating: 3/5


Analysis (Spoiler Warning!)

I had some major issues with In the Dark that I can’t explore without spoiling the ending. Consider this a final warning.

This book employs the Hysterical Woman trope in a major way. According to TV Tropes, this trope “characterizes women as less rational, disciplined, and emotionally stable than men, and thus more prone to mood swings, irrational overreactions, and mental illness.” This trope is still employed by creators today, even though neuroscience has proven that there is little different between male and female brains.

There are actually three murderers in In the Dark — two women and one man. Of the three, Nathan and Stella are both responsible for a single death, while Deborah is responsible for six deaths during the story and implied to have committed more murders in the past.

Nathan is the least passionate of the three. He was presented with an opportunity to kill his wife’s lover, and he did it. The women, on the other hand, are painted as much more scheming and/or deranged.

Stella is the one who orchestrated the events of the book, luring the others to the lodge. At best, she simply wanted to torment the people responsible for her son’s death — at worst, she intended to goad them into killing each other. White brings up Stella’s past mental illness many times, as if this explains her motivations.

Deborah is depicted as having snapped due to the stress and is desperate to beat the others and protect her unborn child. Both women’s murderous nature is directly linked to motherhood, which has some unfortunate implications. Deborah especially follows the Hysterical Woman trope — it only takes a handful of threatening messages to convince her to go on a murderous rampage.

Deborah is also the only major character in the murder game storyline who doesn’t come from money, which gives the novel some unintended classist subtext.

At one point, another character says, “Sounds like she had a really rough start in life. Seems like once your path intersects with bad people, it’s almost impossible to escape the subsequent tangles.”

Implying that poor people are more likely to commit violent crimes and can never escape their situation feeds into existing social issues like the Poverty to Prison Pipeline and the reluctance of employers to hire ex-cons.

In the Dark also falls flat on other social issues, like race and sexuality. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single character who isn’t white, contributing to the ongoing lack of realistic racial diversity in books.

The book’s two LGBTQ+ characters are a butch lesbian ex-cop, who actively bullies the other characters and has the first “onscreen” death, and a gay man who is described as “a gay rights activist,” has a criminal past, and helped Stella plan her revenge scheme. Not only are these characters based on stereotypes — they also contribute to the long tradition of only depicting queer people in a negative light.

While the story itself was enjoyable, In the Dark reflects an ignorance of the social issues it deals with. It tries to comment on the difficulties of parenting, but makes both of its female killers Murder Mommies. It contributes to negative stereotypes around queer people and people from low income backgrounds.

Give it a read if you’re looking for a suspenseful mystery, but skip it if you’re looking for anything deep or socially aware.

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