Well, everybody’s got a secret, Sonny
Something that they just can’t face
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take
Till some day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag ’em down
Where no one asks any questions
Or looks too long in your face
In the darkness on the edge of town
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Bruce Springsteen
It’s the day after Christmas, 1984, a few months after the events of Stranger Things Season 2. Hopper and Eleven are snowed in at the cabin and Eleven is bored. She pulls out a box she found labeled “New York” and wants to know about it. Having just waved off talking about the “Vietnam” box, Hopper somewhat reluctantly tells her the story of his former life as a homicide detective in New York City.
This is the premise of Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town, the second tie-in novel for the Netflix original series Stranger Things. The novel promises to fill in the events of police chief Jim Hopper’s past as a homicide detective in 1970s New York City. The first tie-in novel, Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds, filled in the background to Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives. Now here—perhaps intentionally, perhaps not—we are getting some background on her father, albeit her newly adopted father.
Upon returning from Vietnam, Hopper joins the local police force back home in Hawkins, Indiana, marries, and has a daughter. Soon after, he and his family pack up to New York City to take on a worthy challenge to make the world a better place. He works his way up to detective by the time his daughter is six. He’s assigned a new partner, one of the first progressive wave of female homicide detectives, and their first case together is a murder with ritualistic trappings. it turns into a series of similar murders, with the third victim being where he starts his story.
Like the first Stranger Things novel, this book suffers a bit from the problem of trying to build suspense in a story where we already essentially know the outcome. Hopper even alludes to this when relaying his story, using the fact that he’s standing there telling Eleven the story to reassure her that it all turns out good in the end. Like Suspicious Minds, the suspense is built around the supporting characters, which are fleshed out well enough to make you care about them by the time they fall into jeopardy.
Another similarity is that this novel is partly a work of historical fiction, set against the backdrop of July 1977 in New York City. This was the summer the first Star Wars movie was released, the ramp up to a big mayoral election between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo, and the final month of terror for the Son of Sam. These events play a fairly minor part though compared to the big tie-in, the NYC Blackout of 1977. The cover of the novel hints at this with its tagline of “Lights out in the city that never sleeps”. In the story, the blackout is given a fictionalized cause that ties in to the investigation. The events of his story begin on July 4, 1977, and run through the blackout occurring on July 13, 1977.
In keeping with the first tie-in novel, the title “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is probably also a reference to a song title of the era. This time it is the title track to the Bruce Springsteen album of the same name, recorded from June 1977 to March 1978, the very same timeframe in which Hopper’s story is set. The author, Adam Christopher, is best known for his debut novel Empire State, which was selected as SciFiNow’s Book of the Year in 2012. He has also written tie-in novels for the television series Elementary and the video game Dishonored, so he has some experience working within the confines of someone else’s creation.
The collection of Stranger Things tie-in multimedia is growing like the Down Under creeping up the elevator shaft. Along with this pair of novels, there are currently/planned:
- Stranger Things: Runaway Max: a prequel novel, about new girl Max Mayfield’s past
- Stranger Things: The Other Side (Graphic Novel Volume 1): set during Season 1, following Will Byers’ struggle to survive in the Upside Down
- Stranger Things: SIX (Graphic Novel Volume 2): a prequel graphic novel, following Hawkins Lab patient #6
Plus a slew of additional tie-in merchandise, like an official behind-the-scenes book, a “field guide” to the Down Under, and a Trapper Keeper with Will Byers’ “secret files”. As with any series’ expansion into books and other multimedia, it’s debatable how much of this merchandise is really relevant to the experience of watching the show and how much of this can be attributed to a fun but somewhat obvious cash grab.
As far as Darkness on the Edge of Town goes, there really aren’t very many hooks into the “present day” story of Stranger Things. It is vaguely hinted that the main bad guy in the story was potentially “Patient Zero” in Project MKUltra, the CIA experiments that eventually led to Dr. Brenner’s experiments at Hawkins Laboratory with child subjects Eight and Eleven. And…that’s about it. A little bit of history is laid down for Hopper perhaps, in both his drinking problems and prior exposure to the paranormal. But otherwise, this story is much less integral to the overarching mythology of the show. We’ll see if maybe any of the characters from Hopper’s past make an appearance in Season 3.
As a standalone story then, it probably stacks up about perfectly against its GoodReads rating of 3.84 / 5 stars. It’s good, not great, but a worthy addition to the backdrop of Stranger Things, especially if you’re a completist. I’m not so sure though that I personally am going to keep up with the rest of the pantheon. I think I’m done until Season 3 drops on July 4th.