Anaphora Literary Press (2017)
Reviewed by Ben Green for Reader Views (12/17)
In “Dark Knowledge,” author Clifford Browder takes us to a time shortly after the American Civil War in the late 1800s. Here he tells the story of a slightly affluent family with a rich family history. However, things become problematic for the family when the main character Chris begins to investigate the family's past and how it acquired its wealth and status. Of course, this does not go over well with the other family members, and in particular, Uncle Jake. Uncle Jake and his son become the story's protagonists. Unlike Uncle Jake, who is a seafaring "man's man," Chris is a bit of a yellow-bellied bookworm who needs to take up boxing. Most of Chris's investigations are through letters from his grandfather's chest which is conveniently located in his home. He also conducts some interviews and does other research. The chest, however, and the letters inside are the big focus of the book; in fact, almost too much of a focus. “Dark Knowledge” is also a bit of a "coming of age story," with both Chris and his sister Sal being of dating age or I guess really marrying age, given the setting.
“Dark Knowledge” starts off with a lot of potential and in the first couple of chapters, all of which are relatively short, I really felt I was going to enjoy this book. Unfortunately, like the main character Chris, “Dark Knowledge” suffers from never really being sure of what it is trying to be. As the name would suggest, it deals with some really dark subject matter. However, the characters' behaviors and dialogues never truly reflect that. It is clear that the family drama between Chris and Uncle Jake is supposed to be the serious stuff of great consequences; however, the only real threat here is to the family reputation and the most action-packed conflict is more or less an 1800s fist fight.
Ultimately, what “Dark Knowledge” by Clifford Browder comes down to is a late 1800s family drama set to the backdrop of the slave trade. Technically the book works — it’s written well and the first couple chapters really suck you in. It is also clear that the author thoroughly researched the time period and put some real work into the historical side, which I greatly appreciate and which makes this story much better than other historical fictions I have read.