Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town reveals a 1970s crime story from Jim Hopper’s past

Review by C.J. Bunce

Every fan of Stranger Things will likely approach a Stranger Things novel looking for something like an “X-File.”  Adam Christopher’s new novel Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is about Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour in the Netflix TV series), and it takes place in 1977, seven years before a Christmas in 1984 where he is enjoying a winter in his cabin with his newly adopted daughter Eleven (played on the series by Millie Bobby Brown).  A few weeks after the events of Season Two, Eleven finds a box of Jim’s mementos and wants to know more about his past, so he decides to tell her a crime story from his days as a New York City detective.  So it will help the reader’s 432-page journey to know this is not an X-File–there is nothing fantasy or science fiction about Hopper’s past to be learned, no demogorgons or other monsters, and although it includes a few scenes with his wife Diane and daughter Sara, we never learn more about why they aren’t around when the series takes place.

Understandably reader expectations might be wrongly set by the folks advertising the book.  This is how Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is marketed:

Chief Jim Hopper reveals long-awaited secrets to Eleven about his old life as a police detective in New York City, confronting his past before the events of the hit show Stranger Things.  

I don’t know what “long-awaited secrets” could mean for Stranger Things fans other than learning what happened to his wife and daughter.

But if you can get beyond a sci-fi/fantasy assumption, or if that is not even your expectation, then you’ll learn more about what makes Hopper tick.   In a story laid out like a 1970s prequel Law & Order episode, Hopper goes undercover in the style of Donnie Brasco or The Departed, except the undercover work begins and ends not over several months but inside of 12 days (making Hopper very lucky or some kind of supercop) between the Fourth of July 1977 and the aftermath of the real-life July 13-14 city power outage.  As a crime story for beginning readers of the genre, Christopher’s storytelling provides a thorough tale of an alternative cause for a real-life event.   He uses gangs, connecting Hopper, a new partner, federal agents, and research on returning prison inmates to the public after serving out their sentences in a hot summer where the Son of Sam was still yet to be captured.  It may very well say something about Hopper’s character, that he would select this story to tell his daughter.

For its content, the novel runs long, when typical crime stories rarely run past 250 pages.  At one point Hopper is searching an office and we learn about each drawer and file that contain no clues or relevant elements to the crime–even as part of Christopher’s world building for younger readers I’m not sure we needed that kind of detail.  Can one ex-soldier become the King of New York City in 1977 or 1927 or 1877 with a gang of a few hundred followers simply by causing a city power outage?  You could cause some real damage, and the author mentions looting and general mayhem, but I had difficulty buying into the villain’s plan of biblical proportions even if the real-life event actually resulted in the arrest of thousands of looters and the burning of dozens of blocks of neighborhoods.

A more minor item that can usually be overlooked by the reader is that Christopher’s Britishness stands out a bit, as oftentimes he slips in words American English doesn’t typically use.  This surfaces in dialogue, like “redundancy” is a British employment concept but in the U.S. the term exchanged by a couple of street cops would have more likely been laid off, canned, fired, etc.  So an early draft could have used a review by an American editor.

For fans prepared for what the story is about, Adam Christopher’s novel is an easy, enjoyable read, and a fine contribution to the crime genre.  Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is available now here at Amazon in a hefty hardcover edition from Del Rey.  Check out our review of one of Adam Christopher’s earlier works, Killing is My Business, here at borg.

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