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Dark Eyes

Review

Dark Eyes

How addictive is William Richter's DARK EYES? Let's just say I read it in a weekend, at a major family gathering, during which I kept disappearing upstairs to sneak in just a few more pages. And that's not a negative commentary on the family gathered, either. Under normal circumstances, I would have gladly set my book down for a few hours or even days while I caught up with them. But DARK EYES is neglect-your-family, lose-sleep, turn-off-your-cell-phone good. Just be forewarned --- you may want to give your family and friends a little advance warning so they don't think you're ignoring them for no good reason.

"DARK EYES is neglect-your-family, lose-sleep, turn-off-your-cell-phone good. Just be forewarned --- you may want to give your family and friends a little advance warning so they don't think you're ignoring them for no good reason."

DARK EYES is already receiving a lot of comparisons to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, perhaps for good reason. Wallis Stoneman, the heroine, does bear some resemblance to Lisbeth Salander, at least on the surface. She has Lisbeth's tough-girl affect and dark-eyed, emo appearance. But although her life has been far from perfect, she is far from having the kind of wounded, damaged soul that Lisbeth possesses.

Wallis (known as Wally) barely remembers her early years in a Russian orphanage, from which she was adopted at age five by a couple who raised the precocious little girl with every luxury and advantage in a beautiful Manhattan apartment. Like many adopted children, however, Wally's eventual desire to search for her birth mother has raised countless other self-doubts. After a major falling-out with her adoptive mother, Wally spends years living on the streets leading a vulnerable crew of other runaways, and keeping them more or less on the straight and narrow.

But after Wally's ID is stolen, several new and unexpected plots are set in motion. First, Wally's ID is found on the body of a drug-addicted, abused girl in Central Park, prompting an investigation that soon goes far beyond the homicide department. Second, Wally's quest for a replacement fake ID leads her to a chance encounter with her past --- the memories that she still possesses as well as a whole history that is entirely new to her.

As both Wally and Detective Atley Greer approach a series of mysteries --- not to mention a trail of dead bodies --- from different directions, an ominous, menacing figure from Russia's underworld stalks Wally, determined to find his own answers before she completes the puzzle.

This might be William Richter's debut novel, but he's also an accomplished screenwriter, which shows. DARK EYES seems tailor-made for the big screen with cinematic action sequences, visually compelling plot twists, and nonstop plot developments that can keep readers and viewers alike enthralled. That's not to say that the novel's value is only in its plotting, however. Wally's character development --- particularly her slow-dawning realization that, with her memories of safety and her privileged class upbringing, she is not quite like the runaways and abused kids she calls her family --- is steady and believable, as is her motivation to hunt down her birth mother.

Sure, DARK EYES is not perfect --- the prose is a little inelegant at points, and the one sex scene is downright awkward --- but readers will be more than ready to forgive these imperfections, swept up as they will be in a killer ride that is, we can hope, just the beginning of more great things for Richter and his unforgettable heroine.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 27, 2012

Dark Eyes
by William Richter