Mountain Chills: Dark Horse

As Murphy’s Law would have it, I was a bit under the weather this long weekend just gone. I offered my thanks to the kids for sharing their bugs, and got cozy on the couch. It’s winter after all, and under a blanket in the lounge room isn’t the worst place to be. Plus, there’s always a definite upside to being a bit laid-up… plenty of reading time!

The first book I enjoyed thrilled me silly. The moody, misty thriller Dark Horse, by Honey Brown (Penguin) had me sitting on the edge of my comfy couch.

dark horseFrom the first sentence, Dark Horse had me knocked off my feet…

“The blow put Sarah on the ground. That she was suddenly horizontal registered in her mind, then the pain came rushing through, washing over every other detail. A sigh escaped her lips and she lay motionless, struck dumb by the brute force of the hit. She tasted blood…”

I was hooked, and was immediately endeared to Sarah, a character who was clearly floundering at rock bottom…

“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”

I felt sorry for her as she copped an earful from her father when she reneged on Christmas lunch, and I didn’t blame her when she packed her bag, saddled her horse, and set off for the bush. I knew that her plan would lead her into danger, but I could understand her decision completely, taking off into the mountains that day seemed to make perfect sense. At the time.

As Sarah and her horse Tansy proceeded into the mountains which surrounded her valley home, I was immersed in a scene of trails, gums and obstacles. For me, the picture painted to set this scene was a highlight of this well-constructed novel. As you’d expect from a thriller, Honey Brown creates a beautiful and oppressive moodiness with her descriptions of the mountains. It’s summer, but unseasonably wet, creating an unpredictability in the environment and in the story itself.

I love the mountains, the mist, fog and hush that falls over the hills when it’s wet, but the storm that hits Sarah and Tansy is a whole different beast…

“Night fell in a moment. It was only midday. Sarah pulled the hood of her coat over her cap. She tightened the drawstrings around her face. The clouds didn’t open so much as lower to the ground and pound the earth with water. Chicken Little was right: the sky had fallen. Sarah and Tansy continued up the track, water streaming down their bodies. Sarah was wet through to her skin. A veil of water ran off the peak of her cap. Her raincoat couldn’t be expected to hold up against this kind of onslaught.”

Drenched, tired  and hungry, Sarah makes it to Hangman’s Hut, sanctuary from the elements, and seemingly from civilisation. That is, until Heath arrives. With him, he brings mystery, fear, contradictions and desire. His mystery creates an unease for Sarah, but also an attraction. She hides her gun from him, she questions him and doubts him, but at the same time they settle effortlessly into a strange kind of domesticity – she manages the food, he builds the fire, they choose sides of a shared bed, and confide in each other, albeit selectively.

The attraction is electric and perfectly balanced with the suspense of the story. It ensures that the reader is left wondering, guessing right up until the very end…

“Sarah liked the reaction his body made as she raked her fingers down his legs. And she liked, too, the things he said, the way he seemed determined to make the moment special. The romance was sweet and reassuring. The sounds he made down in his chest were sexy. They got her breathing keenly too. They made her bolder.”

Their relationship is decadent and lusty, but also quite true. Still, given the many unanswered questions about Heath, it makes it hard to imagine the relationship ending well.

Now, I can’t say too much more about the mystery that unfolds as Sarah and Heath wait for rescue, I’d hate to spoil the ending for you. It twists and turns with nightmarish frequency and will probably have you worried for Sarah, falling for Heath and waiting for the sky to clear so both rescue and resolution can come.

What I will say is that I’d most definitely recommend Dark Horse as a great winter read, the sound of the rain on the roof will only add to the atmosphere of the novel. Don’t be scared, it’s a fascinating read.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Dark Horse, by Honey Brown shop now at the TBYL Store…

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