Cook specializes in exploring the spaces that exist within one particular kind of “dark”—the darkness of the human heart, a metaphysical region where desire and memory go into hiding, and where dangerous schemes of deliverance are born. Exactly what Dora March may be hiding from is the secret that hangs longest and most provocatively over this novel, an unapologetically gothic affair set in a Maine town called Port Alma during the Great Depression. Coming seemingly out of nowhere and bringing little more than her cryptic beauty, Dora enters and eventually turns upside-down the lives of Cal and Billy Chase, scions of a prominent local family. The contest that Cook shrewdly limns between Cal, a gloomy soul of classical temper, and Billy, a true-blue romantic, provides a powerful narrative substructure. Sibling love and sibling rivalry drive the story, which opens in the aftermath of Billy’s violent death and starts with a quest by Cal (who serves as the tale’s first-person narrator) to find Dora, who fled town immediately after the murder. As usual in a novel of this type, the key to understanding the recent past lies in a more distant past, and Cook puts forth several possible keys that might unlock the mystery that is Dora March. Cook’s failure to make the most of those possibilities is the only flaw in an otherwise elegant plot. In the end, we discover where Dora came from, but not what compelled her to travel across a continent to the storm-battered, love-forsaken world of Port Alma.
THOMAS H. COOK. Places in the Dark (2000).