Header collage featuring the cover of Only Darkness by Danuta Reah

Only Darkness

A dark, edgy and terrifying debut novel.

“A claustrophobic menace of intrusion…” – Sunday Express

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The footstep in the dark, the movement at the corner of your eye – it’s all your imagination. Or is it?

Seal: Nominated for the CWA Gold Dagger award
Seal: Nominated for the CWA Steel Dagger award

Only Darkness

Only Darkness is a novel of psychological suspense, following the life of Debbie Sykes, a young teacher working in her first job in a Further Education college in a poor South Yorkshire town.

A killer is targeting women who travel alone on late-night trains, abducting them from deserted stations and dumping their bodies on isolated stretches of the railway line that runs between Sheffield and the east coast. Police advise vigilance, but the gaps between the killings mean that people relax their guard, until the killer strikes again.

One night on her way home after teaching a night class, Debbie is waiting at the empty station when she sees a man watching her. Her train arrives, and she travels home, more or less dismissing what she saw. The next day, news of another murder breaks, and Debbie realises she may have seen the killer. 

An unscrupulous journalist breaks the story, naming Debbie. No one knows if the man she saw was the elusive killer, but if he was, he knows she saw him, and he knows who she is.

The only person who understands how much danger Debbie may be in is Rob Neave, ex-police officer, currently in charge of security at the college where Debbie works. Drawn to her, but held back by his own demons, can Rob keep her safe?

Dark, compelling and unbearably tense, Only Darkness explores the themes of fear, violence, darkness and love in a chilling and compelling way.

Rotherham station

Rotherham station. © J Thomas under the Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

How I wrote Only Darkness

Only Darkness was my first novel, and it was inspired by a very frightening encounter I had at a railway station in Rotherham. It was late at night, I was on my own, and man appeared who seemed to be watching me in a way that made me very nervous. When he began moving towards me, I was genuinely terrified. The station had only one exit and was quite isolated. I was seriously worried for my own safety, and I don’t know what would have happened if my train – running late as usual – hadn’t arrived. The man wasn’t a passenger. He didn’t get on the train. I am convinced he was up to no good.

As someone who’d always wanted to write novels and who had tried unsuccessfully to write novels in the past, I began to weave the events of the evening into a story: suppose there was a serial killer whose modus operandi was to kidnap women from railway stations late at night. Suppose a young woman saw him. Suppose her name got leaked to the press. Suppose the killer realised she now represented a danger to him. Suppose he began stalking her and her loved ones…

I began writing with no great expectations. I had started novels before and not got very far. But this time, the novel came alive as I wrote. Debbie, the young teacher, became vividly real in my mind. I knew where she lived, I knew about her cat, Buttercup, I knew about her relationship with her students, I knew how close she was to her mother who lived in the small village of Goldthorpe. 

Other characters started stepping onto the stage: the unhappy, restless Rob Neave, trying to recover from a terrible personal tragedy; the cynical young Detective-Sergeant Steve McCarthy, Debbie’s students. It was a world that became very real to me. I had to write the book, because I had to find out what happened to all these people. I immersed myself in the story as much as I could for the next year, helped by the fact that during this time, I lost my own teaching job to redundancy.

I never expected to get the book published. Publishing was and is a very competitive industry, but to my amazement and delight, Only Darkness was bought by HarperCollins on a two-book deal. It was published in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Finland and my career as a writer of crime fiction began.

Some foreign editions of Only Darkness

Here are some of the foreign editions of Only Darkness. These may or may not be currently available – check your favourite bookseller.