I’ll be honest, when I picked this up I knew it wasn’t going to be the greatest thing I ever read. I mean, a YA detective story based on the pre-Eleven life of Detective Hopper from Stranger Things. It was an absolute cash-grab. Something that is instantly confirmed by the price. This book cost me £20 and there is nothing about it that looks worth it. It’s not got a very good cover nor does it feel like super great quality. It’s just plastered the faces of familiar characters on the front, used the Stranger Things logo, and made it an official novel. Then let the die-hard fas shell out their money without a second thought. I say that knowing full well I bought it but, in my defence, I had a book token so I don’t really count it. I didn’t spend my hard-earned cash on it. It was essentially a present. And I was a little intrigued by this. I’ve never had a great time with the novelisations of films or television shows. I want to love them but, more often than not, I just think it’s cringe. Can it ever not come across as fan fiction? Anything written as part of an expanded universe that doesn’t come first-hand from the original creators will always feel weird and desperate. Let’s not forget the curse of The Cursed Child.
Perhaps one of the unexpected things to come out of Stranger Things season 1 was the amount that audiences fell in love with Jim Hopper. The gruff, angry, drunk who was more than happy to show off his dad bob whenever he could shouldn’t have been such a hit with fans. But, thanks in large part to actor David Harbour, the Police Chief became a fan-favourite. And Darkness on the Edge of Town aims to cash-in on that fandom. Transporting the reader back to 1977, we see a time in Jim’s life before he met Eleven and his world changed. He was living in New York with his wife and daughter and working as a homicide detective. His life, though difficult, was pretty straightforward. Until one particularly hot Summer when weird things started happening.
Hopper and his new partner, Delgado, find themselves on the trail of a serial killer. They are called in to investigate the death of 3 victims all having suffered through the same horrible ritual and connected by a card left at the scene. These aren’t normal murders and, the more the pair find out about the case, the stranger it gets. With talk of the Devil bringing darkness to the city, Hopper finds himself caught up in a paranormal murder mystery that might put all of the people closest to him in danger. With a strong link to Vietnam veterans, Hopper is placed undercover with the help of the FBI. Can he infiltrate the New York gang at the heart of all this violence and terror?
Darkness on the Edge of Town is one of those frustrating books that thought all it had to do was mention the characters from Stranger Things enough, mix in some weird paranormal stuff, and people wouldn’t realise how thinly written it is. But, really, there isn’t anything to this book. It’s meant to let us further into Hopper’s life but there is no real character development here. We just see the same Jim transported to a different time and place. This is a novel that reads more like fanfiction than a canon piece of the expanded universe. It’s crammed full of in-jokes and callbacks but doesn’t add anything new. We don’t even get to hear about his time as a soldier despite it being supposedly integral to the plot. Clearly, somebody is waiting to at least one more expensive novel out of this character.
The worst thing about this book is that it’s kind of boring. The murder plot doesn’t really go anywhere and it isn’t very engaging. It seems like the most pedestrian kind of crime thriller that someone has tried to elevate with a paranormal twist. A paranormal twist that doesn’t really work. I didn’t really care who had killed these people or why. And, if I’m honest, neither did the writer. He spends so much time describing unnecessary things because he clearly isn’t that interested in the narrative. We get paragraphs describing motorbikes, cars, and rooms but do we take time to delve deeper into Hopper’s mindset? Not really. Do we take the time to delve deeper into the villain at the heart of this story? Not really. This book feels like it’s just trying to get things done. It’s not exciting enough and it doesn’t do anything new. It’s just dull.
Something that isn’t helped by the ludicrous decision to keep stopping the story to go back to the framing narrative. Instead of just writing a story about Hopper in New York, the novel decides to frame it as Eleven asking Hopper about his past. This adds nothing to the story and is simply an easy ploy to tie the novel into the TV show. As if familiar faces are enough to make people ignore just how bad the book is. It’s a pointless and completely gimmicky trick. In fact, it actually harms the flow of the novel and breaks the tension. This novel doesn’t slowly build terror. It just bumbles its way to a messy end that doesn’t really have any fear factor. I can’t quite believe it but this novel ended up being worse than I expected. It’s just sad and bad fanfiction that adds nothing to the expanded Stranger Things universe. By the end, I was skim reading, not in an attempt to finish in time but to get through it.