REVIEW: Dark Horse by Honey Brown

Published: 24th April 2013

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 288 pages

Format: Ebook (Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley)

RRP: $29.99 Paperback $9.99 Ebook

5/5 Stars

It’s Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted trail-riding business.

Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman’s Hut.

She settles in to wait out Christmas.

A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome. But his story doesn’t ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What’s driving his resistance towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.

But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger’s dangerous game of intimacy.

Hands down Honey Brown is the Australian Queen of Psychological Thriller and suspense.

Brown’s books are powerfully imaginative and scarily unnerving and just about everything you could hope to expect from a a thriller. They are extremely well crafted, fast paced and even a bit cunning in the way that Brown uses the reader as a pawn in her sick twisted game of a story. There are lost of isolated settings, and the use of the weather and natural elements are contrasted well against the human mind and emotions. There’s only one thing that is every guaranteed with a Honey Brown book, and that alone is that you never quite sure what you are going to get. If you think you know what’s about to happen next, or who the real culprit is, then you can be sure that Brown is two steps ahead of you, with her story ready to be twisted that little bit further so that the narrative remains elusive and forever just out of the readers grasp. All of which ensures that you will race yourself to read this book faster and faster, but the pages simply can’t be turned fast enough. In my experience, any Honey Brown book is bound to make you sit up straighter, pay more attention, and give you an uneasy feeling deep inside your core as you try (and fail) to work out what exactly is going on.

This book is no different.

Sarah has barely survived a messy divorce that has seen her lose everything she ever wanted. So it’s understandable that when faced with the festive season alone, she simply can’t handle it and takes to the bush to hide out for a few days. A storm is coming quicker than anticipated and when the river breaks and the bridge is swept away (with Sarah only just surviving) she knows she needs to seek shelter and fast if she wants to live to see another day. After settling into the old hunters cottage some time later she is unnerved by the thick fog settling in around her. Even more so by the alarming presence of a whistling stranger who appears just on the clearings outer most edges. Heath, as he introduces himself, is seeking shelter too, and swears his not here to hurt Sarah. But can he be trusted? Can Sarah?

I spent half the book going out of my mind with worry for Sarah and the other half trying to work out what exactly was going on as things started to go awry. The first person narration is what really throws the novel over the top however, as you can FEEL EVERYTHING that Sarah does. You panic with her. Your breathing quickens and your heart thuds loudly and everything goes insane for a moment or two. Every time I closed this book I had to remind myself that it wasn’t real. That Sarah was clearly an unreliable narrator (all first person narrators generally are) and I needed to slow down. But that’s the thing with these kind of books. You can’t slow down, because your entire body has become hard-wired in flight or fight mode and you simply must finish the next page, and then the next. Before you know it, you’ve reached the end.

What I loved most about this novel was the way in which Brown was able to take the inner workings of the brain and ones most basic instinct of fear and pit it against the natural force of a raging storm on an isolated mountain top. What’s more Brown has led the reader into a false sense of security by starting the narrative on Christmas Day, a day that is typically happy and joyful. Right from the get-go Brown starts to strip away the readers pre-convinced ideas of what might happen and she starts to play with out expectations and alliances. Page by page, Brown is able to unhinge her audience (the reader) to a point where they no longer know what to make out of the seemingly innocent world.

Dark Horse is a story that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page and closed the book (or in my case, turned off your kindle). It is a story whose characters become so entrenched in your mind that you simply can’t let them go as you run the events of the narrative through your mind trying to work out just how did Honey Brown pull that off? And if that’s not the mark of true storyteller and a beyond fantastic book, then I really don’t know what is.

This is the ideal book for fans of Honey Brown’s previous book After the Darkness, and for fans of S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep. Any one who likes a good thriller, a fast paced story or simply a compelling page turner will not want to miss out on this novel.

For more information on Honey Brown visit her website, Pengun Books Australia or Brown’s Goodreads page.

My thanks go to the Penguin Books Australian And NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this novel.

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