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After The Dark
Killer Instinct #1
Cynthia Eden

HQN Books
March 28, 2017/ ISBN 9780373801923
Romantic Suspense

Reviewed by Elise Cooper


After The Dark by Cynthia Eden is a psychological thriller intermingled with some romance. This is the first book of the “Killer Instinct” series. The premise of these novels is very unique in that they involve someone in law enforcement knowing a serial killer.

The author takes the realistic studies of law enforcement to a step beyond. Research has shown that FBI profilers actually speak with serial killers to understand their motives in an attempt to quickly capture future perpetrators. The protagonists in this book, through their special relationship, are able to see the killer in a way others cannot. Through the characters, readers are drawn into the dark minds of these psychopathic people.

Eden noted, "Research is my favorite part of writing. Over the years I have talked with FBI agents and psychologists. My go-to book is the MindHunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas. I think Netflix is doing a TV series on it. This is by the guy who started the behavioral analysis unit. Each chapter talks about the mindset of a different killer the FBI went after. It details the body language and the psychology of these infamous killers, the many faces. I have the book on my desk constantly. This is why I had Samantha try to think like a killer, to get into their mind."

The plot is “Colomboesqe” in that readers learn early on who is the serial killer. Yet, this does not prevent them from being on the edge of their seats. The twists have the hunter turning into the hunted as the killers play a cat and mouse game with law enforcement, becoming a game of wits.

The story begins with FBI profiler, Samantha Dark able to get into the killers head and to understand their motives. She left the FBI after being thrown under the bus by her boss for failing to find the serial killer. Accused of letting him get away because the murderer was a former lover, Samantha moves back to her hometown in Alabama. After a tape surfaces her ex-partner Blake Gamble pleads with her to help him find this sadistic assassin. When it becomes obvious she is the ultimate trophy victim Blake uses his ex-military skills to protect her. Together they try to outwit these evil and sadistic people and find them before they continue their killing spree.

The author commented about the main characters. “Samantha is smart; yet, has trust issues and because of that keeps secrets. She is a conflicted heroine because justice matters most to her and she does not always see the world as black and white. I explored with her how it is truly hard to know someone, especially those who do not fully open up. We only know what people show us, basically what is on the surface. After losing her job she lost her self-worth and had a hard time keeping that image she wanted to present to the world. Regarding Blake, he is very different from Samantha in personality. He is all about law and order. What you see is what you get.”

The two antagonists were written as psychopaths. "I wanted to make sure they did very bad things. Dr. Cameron Latham is Samantha's former friend who she had an intimate relationship with. I think he cared about Sam and knew she was the one person in the world he could relate to, his anchor. He was never impulsive and always had a plan. Unlike Cameron, his apprentice Jason Burke was driven by emotion, and was unable to control himself."

Eden also thinks the setting played an important role in the book. "Fairhope, Alabama is the place where I grew up. My editor tried to get me to revise some of what I wrote about this place, thinking it was unrealistic. But everything I wrote is real. In this town, more people have boats than cars. I love the water and do own a boat. It is a ‘boatcentric' area. I wrote in the book about air boat rides because it is one of my favorite things to do."

The intensity of the plot is not only with the mystery, but it also comes into play with the chemistry between Blake and Samantha. The passionate love scenes leave little to readers' imagination. But this is also true of the gruesome descriptions of the crime scenes where the perps kill for sport and experimentation, to find how people react when they know they are about to die. They enjoy dishing out pain, making the victims suffer as they lose hope, and play G-d, deciding who shall live and who shall die.

Because she enjoys writing books with romantic suspense and taking readers on a thrill ride she has her stories with a darker plot. Her next book comes out in May, part of her "lost series." Eden gave a heads up about her next projects, "Lost stands for Last Option Search Team. These civilians' job is to find missing people after the case has gone cold. This will be the last book in this series because I wrap up one before another one begins. My next book in the ‘Killer Instinct" series will have Samantha and Blake as supporting characters. She is the supervisor of a newly assembled team who recruits only those who have a connection with serial killers. This book comes out in July and will feature FBI Agent Tucker Frost whose brother is a serial killer. I think it is really fun to explore this theme."

After The Dark gets readers hooked from page one. Eden does a wonderful job with the character development as she allows readers to get into the minds of the antagonists and protagonists. The tense atmosphere created with the brutality of the murders makes the plot very suspenseful.

Reviewed 2017