The Dark Web Murders is the fourth book in the Inspector Sheehan series, and for full disclosure I haven’t read the others, at least at the time of this review. So I’m discussing this book as a stand-alone, without reference to the rest of the series.
The basic premise of the book is that a murderer, carrying out a series of revenge killings, blogs all of his murders in explicit detail on the Dark Web. The blogs are untraceable due to the Dark Web’s strict secrecy measures, though they do give clues as to the murderer’s motives and future victims. Meanwhile, Inspector Sheehan and his team attempt to get ahead of the killer by tracking clues hidden in the blog alongside more traditional police work.
So, the first thing I should point the reader to is that this book requires all the trigger warnings. The opening chapter contains a wrenching, if not overly graphic, description of a sexual assault and murder, and an enormous amount of the text revolves around a sex club where literally anything is on the menu. There’s reference to child rape, snuff films, and some descriptions of torture victims. And the murders themselves contain elements of sexual assault and corpse desecration. So please be warned that this is not for the faint of heart or stomach.
The mystery itself is not bad. It’s nothing world-shattering, but it’s a solid little mystery with a solvable conclusion.
However, the mystery itself and the relevant clues take up virtually none of the story. Instead the writer is preoccupied by the tantalizing details of this sex club, which is both deeply disturbing and totally irrelevant to the mystery. There’s a point late in the novel where Inspector Sheehan opines that he’s wasted almost all his time looking into the sex club; the same might be said of the writer. Apparently the Inspector solves the mystery well in advance of the denouement, and yet the police team spends virtually no time investigating the actual killer, checking his alibis, interviewing him, or even really interacting with him after the very first murder. Moreover, it couldn’t be more apparent to the reader that most of the people who are interviewed and investigated again and again throughout the book are totally irrelevant to the murders, which leads to increasing frustration as the reader slogs through yet another chapter that has no bearing whatsoever on the plot, but instead seems to exist exclusively to remind us that these irrelevant characters are all perverts.
Indeed, the author seems to have a fairly broad definition of perversion; the fact that several characters are homosexuals is discussed almost as breathlessly and frequently as the fact that they’re pedophiles. There’s an odd passage midway through the book where the Inspector and his wife have a casually transphobic conversation. It adds nothing to the plot and is clearly meant as a charming glimpse into their lives as a couple, but it’s mildly shocking by today’s standards and made the wife in particular much less sympathetic.
Overall, the potential charms of this slight mystery are overwhelmed by the problematic elements that serve only as distractions from the main plot.
You can buy a copy of this book here.