All the Colors of the Dark by Chris Whitaker

All the Colors of the Dark by Chris Whitaker

All the Colors of the Dark by Chris Whitaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an advance digital copy of this novel from the publisher, Crown Publishing, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

We Begin at the End was one of my very favorite books of 2021. It was one of the two best crime fiction novels I had ever read, alongside Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby. A third is now joining their ranks. All the Colors of the Dark is an absolutely brilliant example of crime fiction. It’s heavy and hard and heartbreaking, but it ends on such a strong, vibrant note of hope that it makes the darkness of the journey feel worth it.

“I just wanted to show you that sometimes things survive despite the harshest of odds.”

I can’t say anything about the plot of this book without giving something away. So instead, I’ll talk about the elements of this book that made it such a profound reading experience for me. Let’s start with the foundation: the craftsmanship. Whitaker’s style and voice are incredibly unique. He has such an odd way with words; it compels you to read slowly so that you can fully grasp what’s being stated, while also being incredibly propulsive, even in the quietest of moments. The plotting and pacing were also very unique. I could never guess where the story was going next. The trajectory was wholly unpredictable, which made it feel true to life. Most stories have some kind of recognizable framework to them, but I never felt that presence in this book. Instead, it felt unusually organic for a novel.

“Memories lie in people, not places and things.”

Then there are the characters. My heart ached for Saint, and Patch, and characters on the periphery. This was almost too heartbreaking to read in places. I found myself putting it down often, because while I needed to know what happened next, I didn’t want to see the characters suffer any more. Nix and Sammy, Tooms and Grace, Misty and Jimmy, Norma and Charlotte, were all well fleshed out and very interesting. They felt real, but nowhere near as real as Saint and Patch. I fell in love with these two friends, and my heart broke over everything they went through.

“To love and be loved is more than can ever be expected, more than enough for a thousand ordinary lifetimes.”

The setting was also well drawn, if secondary to the characters, and the passage of time felt believable. This book spans decades, from 1975 to 2001. A story covering that much time runs the risk of feeling either rushed or plodding, either of which throws off the believability of the tale being spun. And with a page count of 608, this could have felt incredibly slow.  Not at all the case here. Each jump forward in time also made sense, and didn’t leave me feeling like I had missed any steps.  He also did a great job weaving in subtle religious and societal commentary without coming across as preachy, or detracting at all from the story.

“God is a first call and a last resort, from christening to death bed. In between is where faith is tested. The mundanity. Anyone can drop to their knees when they’re facing crisis, but doing it when everything is steady…”

“God started the fire. And now He wants the credit for putting it out.”

Art played a large part in this book, as did obsession. We saw how art can be a refuge, or it can fuel the flames of whatever obsession is running your life. This presentation of art, specifically painting and photography, lent even more meaning to the title. I don’t often comment on titles in my book reviews, but I found this one evocative, and layered with meaning. It really added something to the book, in my opinion. Not all titles do.

“Can’t you see how beautiful you make tragedy?”

Whitaker shows us how trauma can force maturity, or it can break you. Sometimes, it does both. His characters long desperately for a return to life and relationships that are nothing but ash, with no hope of reclamation. Survival doesn’t always mean a return to normalcy. In fact, that return is rarely the case. He also shows us how love can leave you broken in a multitude of ways, how it can twist devotion into obsession, even when the heart behind it is pure. Some such obsessions are even noble, though that makes them no less destructive.

“Okay is the preserve of the uninspired… I’d rather live and die at the extremes than exist in the middle.”

Something I really love about crime fiction versus procedurals is the focus on fallout. Procedurals are all about solving a case, about bringing the guilty party to justice. While that is the hopeful endgame of crime fiction, that is not the focus. We are instead plunged into the aftermath, as we are shown how a singular crime effects an individual, a relationship, a town. Those ripple effects, and how they continue expressing themselves months or years or decades after the fact, are what set crime fiction apart.

“Saint wanted to ask what it was like, to lose the thing that defined you. But perhaps she knew: it left you someone else. A stranger you and no choice but to tolerate, and see each day and feel and fear.”

I was stunned by All the Colors of the Dark. I am completely in awe of the craftsmanship, and I will be thinking about the characters and their journey, and the ending Whitaker gave them, for a long time to come. This is a book that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to bring myself to reread, but it’s absolutely a book that I will be getting a physical copy of someday. Powerful stories will always have a home on my shelves, and this is every bit as powerful as We Begin at the End and Razorblade Tears, if not more so. What a story.

Expected publication date: June 25th, 2024

You can order this book from: Blackwell’s | (Support independent bookstores!) | (Another way to support independent bookstores!)

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