Saturday, September 16, 2023

Review: The Darkness Surrounds Us by Gail Lukasis

by Gail Lukasik
Release Date: September 5, 2023
2023 CamCatBooks
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0744302899
Audiobook: B0CBD4DQNP
Genre: Fiction / Gothic / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 / 5 Stars
Nurse Nellie Lester can’t escape death. Fleeing Chicago at the height of the 1918 Spanish flu, she takes a nursing job at a decrepit mansion on a desolate Michigan island. She’s convinced the island holds the secret to her mother’s murky past. The only problem? Her dead mother seems to have followed her there. Nightly she’s haunted by a ghostly presence that appears in her bedroom. But is it her mother or something more sinister? When the frozen body of the prior nurse is unearthed, Nellie suspects her family’s history and the nurse’s uncanny death are connected to a mysterious group that disappeared from the island twenty-four years earlier. As winter closes in, past and present collide resurrecting a lurid killer, hell-bent on keeping the island’s secrets. Will Nellie uncover her mother’s shocking past before the killer enacts his final revenge? 
My Thoughts
The Darkness Surrounds Us had all the elements of a lush, gothic mystery, with hints of a supernatural mystery, a mysterious group of people on the island who disappeared, an old decrepit mansion, and a secret about Nellie's past. With all of these elements, all of the things I love in a gothic mystery, what was it about this story that did not quite work?
First of all, let me start with the lush descriptions of the mansion and the world as they were definitely the strength of this novel. Taking place in winter, it was easy for the author to take advantage of so many natural elements to ensnare our heroine in many an adventure so I am glad to see this happen, everything from getting lost in the forest, to almost freezing to death, and so on. I would have been disappointed otherwise. The descriptions of the mansion itself were quite good, but for the life of me, I couldn't understand why a nurse of a newborn child would be placed in the attic and not next door. That doesn't happen during this time period as the nurse needs to be available twenty-four-seven in case of emergencies, not stuck away in an attic. And unfortunately, I just couldn't let that go and it became more bothersome as the story progressed.  
The plot itself contained all your usual tropes: the wary housekeeper, the unhappy groundskeeper, the secretive lord of the mansion, the unbalanced mistress, the missing previous nurse, the secretive villagers, and I could just go on and on.  It's not that I don't like those tropes, but if you are going to use them, you really need to up your ante and do something special so you stand out from all the other books that has been written using them.  And while the author tried, with the mysterious disappearance of a group of people and the implication of Nellie's mother and father being involved, I don't think it worked as intended.  For me, it was predictable, easy to figure out, and Nellie's personality destroyed any tension that was being built up every...single...time.  And because the plot was meandering in nature, the author tried to pull it together with mysterious happenings and characters that were acting strangely or with ill-will towards Nellie instead, it just seemed contrived and ruined the flow of the narrative. And while it wasn't hard to figure out the villain, there was little description given about the motives surrounding this person or what made this person do the things they did. I don't have to like the villains, but just having them do horrible things isn't the only thing that makes them a villain, sometimes you get creeped out because of their motivations, their desires, the heart and soul of a person.

And Nellie. Personally, I just couldn't root for this character. I found her abrasive and annoying, not paying attention to warnings and hints. She was told flat out the villagers don't like strangers and those who seek to find information about the past, but she constantly interrupted with personal questions about her mother, using little subterfuge. I just wanted to kick her at times, especially with some of the choices she made in whom to trust. Gosh, she was silly. And some of the other characters had the development of a wooden shoe, so much that a week later I can't even remember their names.  

The Darkness Surrounds Us did have a nice mystery at its core, but the plot meandered quite a bit and the characters were one-dimensional in nature and could have been developed much more to show their motivations and their desires. I did enjoy the setting and thought the descriptions of the eerie woods and the creepy house were quite good, but there were too many anomalies from this time period that just didn't work. That being said, there were enough good things in this book that I really hope the author writes another gothic historical mystery as I would definitely read another.