By: James Hankins
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: 7/11/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars
Five days ago, aspiring crime novelist Jason Swike awoke chained to the wall of a run-down horse stable, convinced he would soon die at the hands of Crackerjack, the infamous serial killer who had terrorized the residents of Massachusetts for the past year—capturing and tormenting men, painting whimsical designs on their faces before shattering their bones and ending their lives. Just when death seems inevitable, Jason, with the help of another captive, manages to kill the madman and escape.
Hailed as a hero, Jason reaps the benefits of his newfound fame: a book deal, a possible reconciliation with his estranged wife, and reward money he can use to pay for his son’s costly medical treatments. But he soon realizes the nightmare that began in the deserted stable is far from over, as he is drawn into a twisted game where the darkest terror may not be the psychopath manipulating his every move, but what Jason may have to do to survive…
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Acclaimed author, James Hankins returns following The Prettiest One (2016) with his latest edgy psychological crime thriller, with gruesome evil secrets of the past —THE INSIDE DARK. Top 20 Summer Books Coming July.
Psychologically rich, taut, fast-paced suspense, with twists around every corner, Hawkins will keep you guessing until the final conclusion.
What drives a person to kill?
Set in the Boston area, Jason Swike, is a crime, mystery, suspense novelist – married to Sophie with a six-year-old son, Max (Down syndrome and blood disease). There was a car accident leaving her in a wheelchair, and the couple (separated/estranged for two years).
As the novel opens Jason has been chained to the wall of an old horse corral in a deserted ramshackle stable. He was given no food, and only water, mixed with drugs.
When would death arrive?
Death enjoys what it does. Death likes to whistle while it works.
“Take me out to the ballgame. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.”
Death has a name.
Headlines. The most feared in Massachusetts. The media had dubbed Death’s latest human incarnation, Crackerjack—because serial killers with catchy monikers grab more viewers and sell more papers than ordinary killers do.
Crackerjack broke bones—cracked, snapped, twisted, or crushed. Then the final death blow. Death has a humor . . .
Three strikes you’re out. Crackerjack had clearly taken his media-given nickname to heart.
Death had an odd sense of whimsy.
In addition to broken bones, all his victims had been found with their faces adorned with skillfully rendered designs, like those you pay for at an amusement park or carnival. From superheroes, fairies, wild animals, and cartoon characters.
Soon death would come whistling for him.
Jason learns he is not alone in the stable. There is another man being tortured. Ian Cobb. He hears the whistling and knew Death would come for the other man, Ian. Then he would be next. The last sound heard by his victims.
During the torture, he could hear the pleading for him to help. He had to help him. Soon the struggle stumbled into his stall. A life-and-death struggle with a serial killer, taking place literally on top of him.
With the help of Cobb, Jason takes down Crackerjack, (Wallace Barton) the sadistic serial killer who whistled as he tortured his victims. Cobb even had the similar face painted design.
Jason had killed him with the hammer (the final blow), but it was self-defense. He had struck him three times.
Soon there is much success for Jason. He is a hero. They were both lucky. Jason got away without a scratch; however, not Cobb. Why did CrackerJack keep Jason around longer?
Briggs is the homicide detective. Jason and Ian were the only ones which had escaped the serial killer. There were six bodies buried in the woods behind the serial killers stable bringing the total to sixteen. Briggs is suspicious of Jason’s story. Something does not add up.
Soon Jason enjoys the limelight and his book sales soar. In less than forty hours he had a six-figure offer in hand from a major publisher for a non-fiction book about Jason’s ordeal and his eventual escape. Then were two Hollywood producers. Life is good.
What if he stretched the truth, embellished a bit— just to get the job done. Would it be so wrong to lie a little? He had a wife in a wheelchair from a car accident (which he was to blame), and a son with expensive medical needs. Jason needed to lie a little during the TV interview. He needed book sales. His family had medical needs and he needed to win them back.
Cobb takes a backseat. Cobb takes care of his elderly father at home. He owns a plumbing business which his father had started and he had shared with his brother John until his death. Half of his income went to nursing care, doctor visits, medical supplies, and equipment.
What is Cobb hiding?
Ian gives up his part of the reward to Jason. However, Jason soon learns all this comes with strings. Both men had been taken from an empty parking lot and drugged. Both have family medical problems and a tragic past.
Then later his nightmare begins once again.
He hears the whistling again . . .
Did he kill the real killer? Was there a copycat? Is the real killer still out there?
More bodies surface.
Jason has some secrets of his own. He desperately needs the money, with his own son’s medical needs with a rare blood disease (aHUS) and the possibility of facing a future of dialysis and even kidney transplants. His care is costly.
Cobb also has a creepy disturbing past which shapes his life. Each is blaming someone else in their lives for their behavior. Both these men have some things in common (both suffered catastrophes) and Detective Lamar Briggs knows something is not right and will not stop until he gets answers.
Jason is worried about his own family. If the killer is still at large, he needs to hire his own hit man. How far will Swike go to sell books, and to resuscitate a drowning career as a crime writer? He cannot let the killer get to him and his family.
Two different car accidents trigger a dangerous chain of events. Jason is drawn into a twisted game while the psychopath killer is pulling all the strings.
Time to let The Inside Dark out . . .
From an abandoned horse stable to a motel. A nightmarish journey of madness, evil, to sadistic—a cleverly written twisty, tense, suspenseful creepy thriller!
This crackerjack suspense hits a home run!
An avid fan of talented Hawkins, from his first book to this latest, have enjoyed immensely his writing crossing many genres. Each book is unique— from mystery, suspense, crime, and psychological thrillers.
For fans of Jennifer Hillier, Lisa Unger, and Paul Cleave (other favorites). The author knows creepy, torture, revenge, and twisted minds. THE INSIDE DARK is a "must read" terrifying cat-and-mouse game. Wickedly evil for your summer reading pleasure.
If you have not read James Hankins, what are you waiting for?
Read my reviews:
The Prettiest One
Brothers and Bones
Jack of Spades
A special thank you to Thomas and Mercer and NetGalley for an early reading copy.
July Top 20 Summer Books
Summer Reading Picks
About the Author
JAMES HANKINS lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two sons. He used to be a lawyer. Before that he wrote screenplays. Now he writes books and helps raise his boys.
* * *
That’s what it says about me in my books. If you’re curious, there’s more.
I started writing as a kid and never stopped, at least not for long. I remember writing a science fiction novel in the seventh grade and when a few kids on the bus heard me reading it to my friend, they made me share it with them. Every morning they’d ask for a new installment. I’d write in the evening and read it to the kids on the morning ride to school. My teacher learned of this and, after reading the first chapter, had me read to the class each morning. I’m not sure how long that went on or if I ever even finished that book, but I realized that I liked having people hear my stories.
In high school I decided that I wanted to make movies for a living one day. I was going to be a writer-director. After I graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where I won awards for my films, I moved to the Los Angeles area and tried the Hollywood thing. One script that I co-wrote with a friend was produced and, though I won’t say much about the movie, I will say that the experience allowed me to meet Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island.” I even kissed her. It was on the cheek, but that’s still better than most people can say. Anyway, my success in the film business was so staggering that I decided to go to law school.
So, several years after leaving college, I was back at school again, attending the University of Connecticut School of Law. During law school I met Colleen, who attended Boston College Law School at the time and who would, perhaps unwisely, eventually agree to become my wife. After school I clerked for the Supreme Judicial Court, the highest state court in Connecticut, and later practiced employment law in Boston for a few years at one of the country’s largest international law firms.
But other than my three years of law school, which were academically intense and left little time for creative outlets, I never stopped writing. And even though I wasn’t actively writing during those school years, I was still thinking up stories that I planned to write one day. And when I left law school and began clerking, I started to write in earnest again. But I set aside screenplays and focused on writing novels. And, always, I yearned for more time to write. And when I began practicing with my law firm, that yearning became even stronger even as my time to write diminished.
My day finally came the same wonderful day that my twin sons were born. My wife and I decided that one of us should stay home with them. But which one of us? She had wanted to be a lawyer literally since she was seven years-old and she loved her in-house attorney position. By contrast, I chafed spending my time on legal matters while burning for more time to write books. It was an easy call for us. (Don’t get me wrong, by the way – that aforementioned day would have been completely wonderful solely for the reason that our sons came into our lives, but the fact that I would also have far more time to write simply added to the day’s wonderfulness.)
So I learned to write during naptimes. Soon, I was lucky enough to catch the interest of my terrific agent, Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. With the boys in school now I have even more time to write. So, as it says above, and in my books, these days I write and help raise my boys.
Life is good. Read More