Review: Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn

Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn
Format: ARC, 352 pages
Publisher: Chicken House
Release Date: 6 June 2013  
Age Level: Young Adult
Source: provided by the Book Depository for review
Purchase: Book Depository

Joe’s mum is dead.

Killed alongside a stranger, in a hit-and-run car crash. Her last words, a message for someone he doesn’t know. Angry and alone, he takes his dog for a late-night walk, where he finds himself at the gates of a mansion belonging to an old movie star.

It’s here that Joe begins his chase to uncover the truth of what happened that night ...

Joe Slattery has just lost his mother in a tragic car crash. At only fourteen, Joe's life has been turned upside down and the only one he has for comfort is his dog, Oz. He has moved in with his Aunt Doreen and Uncle George, but he just doesn't feel like he's welcome. He believes his mother's death was not an accident, but nobody believes him. Then one night whilst walking his dog, Joe spots an abandoned mansion, known as Elysium. Years before, this mansion was home to a famous actress, Norma Craig, and her husband Greville Clairmont... and witness to a horrible murder. As the story goes, Greville had planned on murdering his wife, but mistook the housekeeper for her instead. In a panic, he disposed of the body and fled, never to be seen again. Joe decides to explore inside the mansion, and that decision catapults him into an unbelievable journey. Piece by piece, the puzzle of his mother's death starts to come together, but it is much more involved and dangerous than he would have ever imagined. Along the way he uncovers secrets about his family, his world and some secrets certain individuals would kill to keep buried. He makes new friends and enemies alike, but one thing is for sure: Joe's life will never be the same.

Chasing the Dark was a total surprise for me. Before I started reading, I wasn't so sure if it would be something I would really enjoy. I mean, I'm not typically a fan of mystery novels. However, I've been trying to branch out a little more, so I gave this a try. I can honestly say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. I liked it so much, I found myself counting down the time until I was free to pick it up again. I will admit that it started out a bit slow, but MAN did it pick up! This was an uncorrected proof, which I could definitely tell, so I won't touch on all the typos and flubs throughout. It did throw me off at first, but once I got used to the typos and some of the abbreviations/slang, I got completely sucked into Joe's adventure.

Joe is a very likeable kid. He really doesn't want any trouble, but he won't rest until he has answers. I was right there with him, wanting to know what happened the night his mother died. He didn't know where to look, but that certainly didn't stop him. He's quite good at deduction and I was really impressed with his skills. Sometimes when he got stressed out, he distanced himself by pretending he was watching the situation on television. He'd "change the channel" and I found that a really interesting character quirk. I guess that's one way to deal with things, right? He is smart, brave and a pretty dang good kid.

Along with Joe, there were some other pretty great characters. First of all, I have to say that I love Oz! He's such an awesome dog. Oz rocks. Yuri, the guy Joe meets in the abandoned mansion is really intriguing and I wanted to know what his story was so bad. I don't want to spoil anything, but I can say that we do find out that mystery. One of my favorite human characters - other than Joe, obviously - was Nina. Joe meets her in the lair of a crime boss, Viktor Kozek. Viktor is a seriously bad guy, but Nina and her family have no choice but to work for him to pay off a debt. She is full of fear, but she is more driven by her need to be free than giving into that fear. Nina is tough, smart, sneaky and very brave. She is exactly the kind of person Joe needs on his side in order to succeed. I just loved her to bits. Another character I liked a lot was Joe's best friend, Bailey. Though he's not in the story as often as I would have like, Bailey - and Oz, as a matter of fact - brought some much needed comedy to the team. He was also quite tech-savvy, which was very helpful for Joe and his mission.

There were some characters that I would definitely not want to run into. As I mentioned before, one of those characters is Viktor Kozek. He's a seriously bad guy. He's like a Ukrainian crime boss and a take-no-prisoners type of guy, so you can only imagine how terrifying having to deal with him would be to a young teenage boy. Viktor's cronies were also quite fiendish, but none of these were as scary as the main villain in this story. It would be super spoilery if I told you who that is, so I won't. Just know that this individual is ruthless and even Viktor and his men are scared to cross them.

I really enjoyed Sam Hepburn's writing style, once I got used to it. The settings were vivid and interesting and she was able to pace everything so perfectly. Except for at the very beginning, I didn't feel like it dragged or was too fast. The pace made it so that I simply HAD to find out what was going on! I call that a success, really. There are so many questions that cropped up as I was reading. What happened to Joe's mom, Sadie? Who was Ivo Lincoln, the guy she was in the car with when they were run off the road? Who killed them and was it really and accident? How does Elysium fit into the mystery? Does it at all? Who is to be trusted and who isn't? Will Joe make it out alive? I am really pleased to say that all my questions were answered by the end. Sam did a great job tying up all the loose ends and I closed the book extremely satisfied. There is a ton of action, suspense, danger and even a twist at the end that I didn't see coming. Overall, Chasing the Dark is a very interesting, action-packed, riveting mystery that is bound to thrill readers young and old.

A favorite quote: “I lobbed a stick over the wall and hissed at Oz, 'Go on, boy. Fetch!' Not being the stick-fetching sort of dog, he watched it go and went back to biting his bum.”


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