Out Now: At Home in the Dark

Crime writing has its thrilling moments, and one of mine happened early in 2018, when I discovered an email from Lawrence Block waiting for me one morning. In it, he asked me to write a story for a collection he was putting together. I don’t need to tell you that Mr. Block is a legend, but I should mention that I’ve been reading him since I was in high school and truly love his work. Contributing to his collection — AT HOME IN THE DARK — felt like a special challenge. Here’s how my story “Cold Comfort” begins:

The artists at the Humphrey Funeral Home were miracle workers, but even they couldn’t piece Abby Killingsworth’s face back together. In life, she had a curious charisma that was immediately striking in spite of her flaws. It was powerful yet puzzling: her eyes were wide-set and her nose had a bump and her lips were so plump and ripe that they lent her a faintly cartoonish appearance. Yet, when observed together in their heart-shaped frame, a peculiar alchemy occurred that could render complete strangers mute.

Abby had been a great beauty in life. In death, she was a broken statue, mere fragments of cold marble. My own heart had cracked in sadness when I first laid eyes on her lifeless body. In the oasis of false comfort that was the Humphrey Funeral Home, with its piped-in violin music, I kept up my unperturbed façade by imagining that Abby was elsewhere.

“The casket will stay closed,” her mother announced. It was the day before Abby’s funeral, and we stood together in a viewing room at the Humphrey. It was preposterously grand, with a domed ceiling that spoke of aspirations to royal chapelhood. Janet Killingsworth had asked me to accompany her to provide moral support, since her husband had refused to leave the house since his daughter’s death. “I don’t want anyone seeing what that bastard did to her.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Father, I didn’t mean to swear.”

“Please don’t worry about that.” I struggled to come up with something meaningful to say, anything that could blunt the pain. “Abby is at peace now, you must concentrate on that.”

“Oh, Father, I try to. But when I think of what that monster did to my baby…” Janet’s voice cracked. I put my hand on her shoulder, and she rested her head on my chest.

“Why would God take my baby?” Janet sobbed.

Of all the questions asked of me since I’d joined the priesthood, this was the most perplexing. I had no answers, only the same platitudes I’d heard since I was a boy growing up in County Cork. “All I can promise is that there is meaning in everything. It is invisible to us, so we must trust the Lord in all things.”

Janet inhaled sharply and shuddered. “There’s one other thing,” she said, pulling away. “I want you to perform an Absolution for Abby.”

I stared at her. Absolution had been removed from the Funeral Mass before I was born. I’d only performed it a handful of times, in unusual circumstances.

“My daughter may have been… involved with a man,” Janet said quietly.


Janet read the shock in my face, and quickly added. “Abby was such a good girl, and I don’t know if it really counts as an affair, because she was separated from her husband, but…”

“Why would you suspect such a thing?”

Janet wiped her eyes. “Abby was pregnant.”

“What? Abby told you that?”

“No, Father. The police did. It came up in the autopsy.” She choked on that last word.

“The child might’ve been her husband’s,” I pointed out.

“No. Abby didn’t see Frank at all. She told me she didn’t.” Janet gazed at me. “What did Abby say to you?”

“It wasn’t anything she said outright,” I explained. “It was her attitude. Whenever I visited her in the past few weeks, she was in a much more forgiving frame of mind about Frank. She believed he was capable of change, I think.” I was silent for a moment. “I saw vases of daisies in her suite a couple of times. I suppose I simply assumed that they were from Frank. That was the flower they used at their wedding.”

“She seemed so happy, before she died,” Janet said softly. “Glowing. Almost as if she were in love. That wasn’t because of Frank. She didn’t love him anymore. A mother knows these things.”

“You haven’t said anything about this, have you?” I asked. “It’s not anyone’s business, but of course people might wonder…”

“No. I don’t want her good name ruined. There are people who might think what that bastard—her husband, I mean—did to her was justified.”

“No one would ever think that.”

“Some people are cruel, Father. Abby was a good girl, but she… she had her flaws.”

“We all do,” I told her, speaking softly but with a firmness I hoped would comfort her. “We are all flawed creatures, yet the Lord loves us nonetheless.”

AT HOME IN THE DARK also features stories by N. J. Ayres, Laura Benedict, Jill D. Block, Richard Chizmar, Jim Fusilli, Joe Hill, Elaine Kagan, Joe Lansdale, Warren Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Ed Park, Nancy Pickard, Thomas Pluck, James Reasoner, Wallace Stroby, and Duane Swierczynski. Subterranean Press is doing a special hardcover edition that will include only 500 numbered copies, but there’s also a paperback edition and an eBook. The book is out today, and you can order from Amazon, Indiebound, and directly from Subterranean Press.

UPDATE: A couple of hours after I posted this, I learned that the hardcover edition is already sold out (!!!) Happy reading, crime peeps.

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