Now we know what career investigative journalists dream up in their off hours: patterns of alien abduction, forced amnesia, systematic murder, and government cover-ups so vast and sophisticated they’ve persisted without breach for decades. Those are just highlights of The Darkest Time of Night, the debut thriller from Nashville journalist Jeremy Finley, who has won more than a dozen Emmys and a slew of other prestigious awards for his reportorial work.
In The Darkest Time of Night, which author and fellow investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan describes as “The X-Files meets The Good Wife,” Lynn Roseworth’s grandson William goes missing from the woods outside her Nashville home. The very same woods her late father always warned her to stay away from.
Lynn remembers following him there once in childhood as he led a group of men to a mysterious gravesite. As she hid behind a tree watching, a twig snapped and gave her away. Her father dropped his lantern, went to her, and carried her back to the safety of their lawn. He was furious:
He slapped me across the face. The same man who, as a single father, learned to paint my toenails, gave funny names for my earlobes, carried a curl of my hair in his wallet, and fluffed my pillow at night. I broke into tears, and I saw his hand tremble, threatening to strike again. Instead, his fingers curved, with only his index finger remaining, pointing up towards the greenhouse roof where, last summer, he had installed the bell that had once hung in the fire hall on Holly Street.
“Never, ever, ever again, do you step foot an inch beyond that bell. You go any further than that bell, Lynn Marie Stanson, and you’re as good as dead.”
Of course, precisely what Lynn and her family most fear is that William is dead. Search parties, the National Guard, and the influence of Lynn’s husband, U.S. Sen. Tom Roseworth, who has agreed to run on the Democratic ticket as vice president—none of it has turned up the slightest trace of William. The only clue comes from his older brother, Brian, who tells his family that “the lights took him.” Elaboration of any kind is beyond the distraught boy, and he couldn’t have explained what he saw anyway.
It becomes clear to Lynn that she will need to return to the research that consumed her years earlier, when she worked for an astronomer who studied unexplained disappearances. There are details about William’s abduction, particularly the bit about the lights, that are familiar—she heard a similar story from a hysterical family member who was frantically searching for a lost loved one years earlier.
But vice-presidential bids and the extraterrestrial don’t mix well, which means that Lynn has only her childhood best friend to help her search the past in her bid to save her grandson. For once, the U.S. senator is the guy who has no idea what’s going on.
What Finley delivers in The Darkest Time of Night will satisfy political cynics, lovers of mystery, and sci-fi thrill seekers alike. And the good news for this audience is that he has secured a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. We can only hope the next abductee will be a politician.
Liz Garrigan is the former editor of the Nashville Scene and Washington City Paper. She lives in Bangkok, Thailand.