Friday, March 18, 2011

J is for Andrea Jutson's THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK

For my second go around at the Crime Fiction Alphabet (read my 2010 posts here), I've set myself the challenging task of focusing not only just on New Zealand-themed posts, but just on Kiwi crime fiction books (ie I won't do any author profiles etc this time around) - although sometimes it may be the author's name that is relevant to the letter of the week.

That's the case this week, where I'm featuring Andrea Jutson's second novel, THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK (which was published in 2008 and can still be found new in some bookstores in New Zealand).

You can listen to Jutson talking about the writing of THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK in this archived Radio New Zealand interview.

THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK is Jutson's intriguing sequel to her debut SENSELESS, and again features reluctant psychic James Paxton and Detective Constable Andy Stirling. In THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK, Paxton and Stirling find themselves knee-deep in another murder mystery after a pizza delivery boy stumbles across a body at a house in the Auckland suburbs. Stirling, stumped by the grisly but seemingly motiveless crime, visits Paxton, hoping for ‘unofficial’ help. When another bashed and stabbed body is found by another delivery-person, the case quickly takes a more sinister twist, especially when it becomes apparent a game-playing serial killer is targeting unfaithful women. Then Paxton’s involvement is leaked to the media and public hysteria ensues – complicating both Paxton’s personal life, and an already difficult investigation for Stirling and his NZ Police colleagues.

Here's what I had to say about the book in a review for NZLawyer in 2009:

"I have to confess to being somewhat concerned before I started reading, as some authors imbue their fiction with the supernatural or paranormal seemingly as a gimmick, perhaps hoping to putty over cracks in thin characters or story. However, I needn’t have worried - one of the best things about The Darkness Looking Back is Jutson’s depiction and use of Paxton and his psychic abilities. Neither contrived nor clichéd, Paxton is a fascinating and reasonably complex character - not a cardboard cutout of the average “psychic” tabloid columnist or wannabe TV celebrity. In fact he doesn’t even want his special abilities, eschews publicity and profit-making, and sometimes accidentally hinders the police even when he feels forced to help.

I also enjoyed the ‘piss-taking’ and gallows humour atmosphere amongst Stirling and his police colleagues – realistic team dynamics that some authors avoid. Overall, a well-rendered supporting cast of café owners, headline-hunting journalists, and secrets-keeping suburbanites populates an interesting storyline that largely keeps you on the hook. Topped off nicely by moments of humour and domesticity that provide a breather from the dark deeds, it’s an enjoyable local read for crime fiction fans."

Perhaps overlooked at a time when New Zealand readers were just starting to open their eyes again to locally-written crime fiction (it is getting better, slowly), Jutson's novel is a quality read that stands comfortably alongside the many international novels on our booksellers shelves, while still having something a little unique.

Have you read THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK, or SENSELESS? Do you like psychic/paranormal tinged mysteries, whether in books or TV shows like Ghost Whisperer and Medium? Thoughts welcome.


  1. Thanks for this Craig. I can see that it is available on Kindle, just not to Australians, hopefully to NZers though

  2. Craig - Thanks for a great review! This does look like a good read. I'm normally not much of a one for serial killers, but this novel looks intriguing..

  3. I was pleasantly surprised by the read, and am looking forward to reading SENSELESS. It's a shame Jutson hasn't written anything since.