Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

A Country House Murder Mystery with a Supernatural Twist. Ishmael Jones is someone who can’t afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He’s employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself – is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.

The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green. Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series. Published by Severn House Publishers LTD, 2015. Hardback, 217 pages. This is the second time I’m reading this book. I originally read it when it first came out, in 2015.

I am a big fan of the British author Simon R. Green. I have read 2 other series by him- The Nightside series and The Ghost Finders series. That’s about 18 books combined, not even counting all the short stories for The Nightside. So, I really like this author. He is one of my faves and I always snag his books as soon as they come out. Back in 2015, when this book originally came out, I was ecstatic that he had a new series!

Back at that time, my book reviews were nothing like they are today. They were extremely short, about 2 or 3 sentences, and very basic statements. They told you nothing about the story or my deeper thoughts about the story beyond if I thought it was good or bad.

My original 2015 rating:

This book was a lot of fun! I enjoyed the characters and plot. I was surprised at some of the twists through out the book. (5 out of 5)

For some reason, the bookstores and libraries in my area stopped getting the series. I don’t know why or what happened. I just know that after the first one came out, I no longer saw anything for the series. Over the last few years I kept thinking about the series in the back of my mind but for whatever reason, I just never got around to getting the rest of the books and reading more from the series.

Fast forward to May 2019. Now my book reviews are much better and more in depth. I have by own book blog and I do a lot of ARC reviews for sites like Goodreads, Netgalley and authors who contact me personally. I was looking at what new books were listed on Netgalley and low and behold, there was a Simon R. Green book! :O Not just that, but it was a new Ishmael Jones book! I was super excited and without even looking at the plot, I requested the book to read. When I was sent the book, I noticed that it was # 7 in the series! :O I had until August to read book 7, so I figured, what the hell… I’ll start at the beginning and finally read the whole series! Even re-reading book number 1.

The Dark Side of the Road gets off to a great start. There is the mystery of Ishmael’s missing boss, but then dead bodies start to show up and it turns in to a nice murder mystery. The two mysteries are pretty engaging and keeps you hooked through the whole book. It reminded me of the movie Clue, but with a supernatural element to it. The killer was a great twist that I never saw coming! And the description of the killer? Terrifying and unique! All of this… fantastic.

Now, I don’t know if it is because I’m a more in depth reviewer of books then I was back in 2015, or if it’s just because since 2015 I’ve really turned it up on how much I read per year, or if I was just that in love with the author that I was blind to flaws, or what.… but the second time around with The Dark Side of the Road was not as much fun as what I apparently had when I read it back when it first came out. The second time around I had a few problems that were pretty frustrating and hard to ignore.

First, the most annoyingly frustrating thing about the book is Penny. Or more to the point, Penny as a love interest for Ishmael. This felt super shoehorned in and forced. Not to mention how fast it happened. Penny was not that interesting of a character and I found her grating on my nerves. This love at first sight crap between the two characters felt like there was ZERO chemistry. None. There was so much cringe inducing flirting Penny did. Ugh. Not a big fan of her. Not a big fan of Ishmael and Penny together. This forced pairing up of the two characters reminds me a lot about something I hated in The Ghost Finders series- the main character had love at first sight with a ghost, and it too felt super forced and fast.

Ok, so as if the forced love interest wasn’t bad enough, we have to listen to Ishmael whine the whole book about how he is a loner and how he has nobody and he’s so emo because he has nobody to call family or friend. Blah blah blah. WE GET IT! Ok, you are by yourself and it makes you sad. You don’t need to repeat it for-EV-er, alright? Ishmael is a really cool character. Very enigmatic and you are dying to know his full story… but all this emo bullshit about being by himself was just a turn off. You mention it a couple of times and call it good. We seriously don’t need the whole book filled with Ish lamenting about his solitary existence!

The third problem also ties in to the second problem. There was a lot of repetition in this book. You have Ishmael constantly saying the same thing about being a loner. Then there were a couple of times when things were described the same way. Then there was the whole title being mentioned so many times. I felt like I could have been playing a shots game where every time the whole title was said, I take a shot. I don’t know the exact amount of times it was said, but it seriously felt like a lot.

My last beef was with the final twist on the second to last page. There was a big reveal about Ishmael that I can’t really talk about without it being a big spoiler. But… it was just… SOOOOO cliche! And you saw it coming a million miles away it was disappointing. As if cliche wasn’t bad enough, just the way Ishmael handled it felt… *shrug* odd, I guess? Like, he just causal says it and doesn’t seem very upset or shocked about it and just easily moves on. Yes, he was upset before he revealed it, but after he revealed it he just seemed so emotionless about it? It just ended up feeling like it was tacked on without anything really there to flesh it out. But with it being so cliched, I guess it doesn’t really matter what you would have done with it because it still would have felt bad.

*Sigh* I don’t know… With the forced love interest, repeats, and cliches… it just felt like this was kind of… ugh, I don’t want to say lazy writing, because this author is normally so good… but that is what really bothers me about The Dark Side of the Road! Simon R. Green is a really talented author and he doesn’t normally fall in to these sort of problems with his novels. At least I don’t remember stuff like this from his other series. Maybe I need to re-read those too. D:

The first book in the Ishmael Jone’s series had a great set of mysteries that left you dying to know what was going on. The killer turned out to be a really unique take on a classic bad guy. Unfortunately the forced romance was a turn off. The writing for The Dark Side of the Road just didn’t seem as good as what this author is capable of and it left me feeling a little disappointed.


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