cover image The Dark Room

The Dark Room

Julia Cameron. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $25 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0564-1

At first glance, Elliot Mayo, the protagonist of Cameron's uneven yet intriguing fiction debut, isn't the sort of character who might delve into The Artist's Way, the author's celebrated guide to tapping into one's unconscious creative powers. After 23 years on the Chicago police force, the brooding, Black Irish 47-year-old ""homicide bull"" has taught himself to shut down rather than to open up, screening out the bloody pictures that pop up unbidden in his brain. Life changes for Mayo, however, when the grisly murder and mutilation of photographer Jack Nesbitt becomes the first of a string of ritual killings that may have been committed by beautiful pediatrician Violet Winters, whom Mayo can't help loving. When those murders are revealed to be linked to the rape of the cop's nine-year-old son, Zachary, Mayo is forced to trust his intuition that Violet is innocent and the victim of a horrendous crime he left unsolved years ago. Progressing from trusting a hunch to seeking protection through prayer, Mayo evolves into a fascinating character, a tough cop confronting the reality of evil--and the sort of character Cameron's fans will appreciate. The novel's plot lacks true suspense: readers will guess the outcome far too soon, and be less than electrified by the murders as they occur. Still, the narrative generates moral heat, and the guarded yet spiritually adventurous Mayo stands as a compelling lead, making the book one that could appeal to Cameron's huge reader base, as well as to crime fiction fans in general. 50,000 first printing; author tour. (Nov.)