It’s been several years since the scariest night of my life, but the memory still haunts me. I had been in London with a friend and arrived back around midnight, jumping in my car at the station to complete the last 2 miles of my journey. Approaching a 4 way junction my light was green, but a car zoomed out of nowhere and missed me by mere inches. That alone was disconcerting, but what followed was much worse. The car screeched around behind me in a high speed handbrake turn and raced up to my rear beeping and flashing wildly. I could see it was full of young men gesticulating angrily and I was terrified. As I accelerated away from them as fast as I could, various options flashed through my brain: I could drive to the police station, but that was on the other side of town and who knew what they would do before I got there; I could pull into the local supermarket car park for support but that would be empty in the early hours and could leave me in more danger. In a split second decision I chose to drive home, thinking I could at least hit my horn and draw attention to my plight from those who I knew. Fortunately in a matter of minutes the group of lads got bored and peeled away, but it left me deeply shaken. If someone had suggested to me at that moment that men should be subjected to a nightly curfew, I would have wholeheartedly agreed. I can therefore honestly see why the concept behind After Dark by Jayne Cowie is so engagingly controversial.
Imagine a world where women are in power and all men are electronically tagged, making it illegal to be outside their homes after 7pm at night. On the one hand females finally have the freedom to walk home without fear, to cross a car park at night without cat calls or wolf whistles; on the other, all males are being punished for the violence and aggression of those who came before them regardless of their own individual characters. A man and woman cannot even move in together without counselling that approves their co-habitation, a law introduced as a deterrent to domestic violence. Then consider the unthinkable – a woman is murdered late at night and all evidence indicates a man was the perpetrator. No-one has ever managed to remove their tag before so how is this even possible? And why do the police want to cover it up and ensure it is blamed on a woman?
This story was compulsive reading from the very first chapter, with the author presenting a range of disparate stories which cleverly collide as the tale progresses. Sarah’s husband is in prison for breaching the curfew and her daughter Cass hates her for letting him be taken away. Helen is besotted with her boyfriend Tom and desperately wants to have a baby with him despite warning signs that he may not be all he seems. Pamela is the old-school Police Officer, close to retirement, determined to discover the truth. Without doubt the best thing about this novel is the structure of the plot, with Cowie keeping the reader guessing not only the identity of the killer but also that of the victim – I found myself cycle through 3 or 4 different hypotheses before both were finally revealed (and I was wrong with them all). But this story also raises some really important ethical questions about freedom, violence, gender expectations and the way people respond to being imprisoned. As such I think this would make a brilliant Book Club pick – just be prepared for some very heated debate.
I am not usually a fan of thrillers but I loved this book, primarily because it brings together an intellectually-challenging concept with a fast-paced writing style that is both easy to read and compelling. If you are looking for something unique, well-written and that you will want all of your friends to read so you can discuss it in detail, this is absolutely the novel for you. This author is definitely one to watch.
After Dark will be published on 12th of May 2022.