The jacket description makes this book sound like a home run: sixteen-year-old prep school student Nica has been murdered. The case is closed, solved tidily without much fanfare, but Nica's sister Grace thinks the real killer is still out there. She sets out to uncover the truth about her sister's death, but she's going to have to dig through a whole lot of dirt before she reaches it. Let me stress that—a LOT of dirt.
It's that sordid, seamy quality that kept me engaged in Dark Rooms despite some admittedly clunky writing. For my money, the most effective thrillers allow the reader to peek over the investigator's shoulder as she sifts through clues. You may not always know exactly what she's thinking, but it's more exciting that way. The author trusts you as a reader to put some of the pieces together on your own. Unfortunately, Anolik's narrator Grace spouts a constant stream of questions and revelations, spelling out every last detail for us. Under the weight of her internal monologue, the book struggles to maintain the momentum created by its great premise.
Still, I kept reading because I had to know what really happened to Nica. She's a fascinating character, even though we only see her through Grace's memories. The girls' mother, a frustrated artist forced into teaching to make a living, takes photos of Nica constantly—and not in a “Let's document these memories!” way, but in a creepy, predatory, voyeuristic way, which their sad-sack father is apparently helpless to stop. Nica also left behind a string of romantic entanglements, some of which she kept secret from everyone, including Grace. There's a major creep factor running throughout the whole book—there were definitely a few bombshells that made my eyes bug out.
If you can forgive the long-winded narration, this shocking, twisted story of family dysfunction and long-kept secrets will keep you turning pages into the wee hours.