Thirty-nine-year-old attorney Maeve Shaw has painstakingly constructed the perfect life. Her husband, Patrick, is a handsome senior manager at a prestigious consulting firm. They have two adorable boys, Declan and Seamus. And if Maeve just keeps her billable hours up and her mouth shut, she could actually have a shot at making partner at her male-dominated law firm.
But Maeve’s perfect life starts to fall apart when she discovers her marriage might not be what it seems and a new case at work brings up long hidden, dark memories from her own childhood. Determined to save her marriage and keep secret her childhood demons Maeve attempts a balancing act that leaves her more vulnerable than she’s ever been. And soon she’s unsure if everything she has worked so hard for will crumble as darkness overtakes Maeve once again.
Manning’s gripping read is a refreshing spin on the courtroom drama, with a fast-paced plot told from Maeve’s point of view. Flashbacks to Maeve’s dark childhood, with a mother incapacitated by alcoholism and a father raging about it, add depth and motivation to her character. Manning’s legal background lends authenticity to the story as readers are thrust into Maeve’s world of billable hours, heavy caseloads, and the challenge of finding a work-life balance. Pop culture references and witty dialogue show the lighter side of Maeve’s personality—“I sing the line [from Drake’s song “God’s Plan”] about only loving my bed and my mamma to Seamus in the bath to make him laugh. I’m hard like that.”—and soften the story’s more intense subjects, such as opioid addition, alcoholism, self-harm, and suicide.
This suspenseful thriller is part courtroom drama and part cozy mystery, with a dash of women’s fiction and above-average prose. Manning carefully constructs a flawed, yet acutely relatable protagonist in Maeve, and as the drama unfolds in the courtroom, so does her character. Revelations about the murder trial and Shaw’s personal life are expertly written into chapters that end on cliffhangers, coaxing readers to keep turning the pages. This story, with its twisty plot and drama both in and out of the courtroom, will resonate with mystery fans.
Takeaway: This fast-paced legal thriller is perfect for cozy mystery lovers who adore flawed protagonists.
Great for fans of: Marian Keyes’s The Mystery of Mercy Close, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A
Standing on the precipice of middle age, Maeve Shaw has worked hard for her accomplishments. She is a talented female lawyer in a male-dominated profession. She is a good mom to two precious little boys and is married to the love of her life. She has a tremendously supportive best friend who has helped Maeve to keep the skeletons locked in the closet. But suddenly, all the things Maeve has worked to build are falling apart. She is forced to take on a case that hits a little too close to home. The long hours take a toll on the family and especially on her flagging marriage. It will take every yoga class in Chicago and more than a few bottles of wine for Maeve hold everything together. Can Maeve truly become, “The hero of her own narrative?”
Darkness Drops Again is a brilliantly composed legal thriller with more than a few shocking twists. The characters are exceptionally well-written, from an understanding friend always ready with a chocolate bar, to an arrogant boss unwilling to make any allowances for perceived shortcomings. Melissa E. Manning paints the story with vivid clarity, be it a tragic crime scene or a tragic Brazilian wax. The story is imbued with genuine emotions of anger, volatility and insecurity, and it is rounded out with just the right amount of self-deprecating humor. With jaw-dropping twists balanced perfectly with down-to-earth mom-moments, Darkness Drops Again is a sexy crime thriller that isn’t afraid to push the envelope.
In this debut thriller, a lawyer reluctantly joins her first criminal case while trying to stay focused on her family.
As one of the few women at a large Chicago law firm, Maeve Shaw hopes to make partner. But after her second maternity leave, there’s little work available for her, and she struggles to maintain billable hours. Regardless, she steers clear of an imminent pro-bono murder trial. She has an apparent hatred of criminal law, stemming from her troubled childhood with an addict mother and a perpetually angry attorney father. But “the murder team,” wanting a female counselor, requests Maeve. The client is Tammy Sanford, a mom who supposedly strangled her 23-year-old daughter, Kyleigh, a frequent child beauty pageant winner who later became addicted to opioids. Maeve delves into the trial, but a recent discovery about her husband, Patrick, is distracting. He may be having an affair. Though a text message and further evidence aren’t rock solid, they’re certainly suspicious. She’s determined to keep her family together while her boss implies she’ll lose her job if her billables wane. And as she’s sure Tammy is innocent, Maeve and her best friend, Zara Patel, do some investigating of their own. Manning’s novel convincingly mingles Maeve’s personal and professional lives. This character-driven story reveals a woman thriving under intense pressure, even if she occasionally stumbles. As readers only know as much as Maeve does, there’s mystery surrounding both the murder trial and Patrick’s possible adultery. The tale is mostly gloomy, as the mother of two deals with a sexist boss; seems to blame herself, at least partly, for what Patrick may have done; and, via intermittent flashbacks, endures negligent parents. Fortunately, instances of humor offer relief, including scenes involving an odd Brazilian and a webcam failure. The author reinforces her taut narrative with punchy dialogue while each subplot concludes memorably.
An assured and wholly absorbing legal tale.
MANSFIELD - Melissa Manning, a 1998 St. Peter's High School graduate, has written her first legal thriller, "Darkness Drops Again."
Manning has worked as a lawyer at three different firms in Chicago over the last 15 years, specializing in consumer financial services litigation. She obtained her undergraduate degree at Fordham University in New York City and her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 2005.
During that time, she's also been raising her three children — son Finnegan, 12, and twin daughters, Lourdes and Sabine, 9.
Earlier this year, she decided she wanted to step back from law firm life and pursue writing.
"I’m hoping I can make a go of it in writing. I have no plans to return to practicing law at this time. As for when I knew I wanted to be an attorney, very much like the protagonist in my book, Maeve Shaw, I was obsessed with legal shows growing up.
"I watched "Matlock," "Law and Order," "The Practice" — you name it. One of my favorite movies is the little known "True Believer" starring James Woods and Robert Downey Jr. And I devoured all murder mystery/legal thriller books. So it seemed natural to pursue a career in the law. And I’m glad I did as it gave me the legal background to now write the stories I always loved reading," Manning said.
"I've been noodling the idea for 'Darkness Drops Again' for the last decade, but never had the time to sit down and really concentrate on it. 'Darkness Drops Again' features the life of a 39-old lawyer Maeve Shaw who is struggling to make partner. She is then forced to take on a pro bono murder trial, defending a mother who is accused of murdering her opioid-addicted daughter," Manning said.
"This brings up a host of childhood trauma for Maeve, much of which she has kept secret. I think Maeve is a very relatable character for women who have struggled with balancing career and home life. And the murder trial is exciting and will keep readers guessing until the end," Manning said.
She and her husband Joe Kline reside in Chicago. He also is a St. Peter's 1998 graduate.
Manning is already writing the sequel to "Darkness Drops Again," tentatively titled, "Ceremony of Innocence."
Locally, Manning's book is available at Main Street Books.