"A gripping, fast-moving and emotionally charged drama centered on well-drawn characters with genuine motives."– Kirkus Reviews
In Brenham’s (Cornered, 2014, etc.) latest thriller, cops in Austin, Texas, face off against a former convict on a vengeance-driven, murderous crime spree.
The murder of a video arcade owner isn’t a simple robbery gone wrong. Mad Dog, fresh out of prison and with the help of thuggish cohorts Rastaman and Runt, is offing witnesses responsible for his old cellmate Snake’s incarceration. Detective Jason Scarsdale and new partner Tatum Harper link the murders thanks to Mad Dog’s snakelike symbols carved on the victims’ faces. As Scarsdale inches closer to identifying the criminals, Mad Dog’s paranoia intensifies, as he suspects a snitch in the mix. Meanwhile, the detective and his 7-year-old daughter, Shannon, are caught in the line of fire when someone takes shots at their home. But there may be more than one person who wants Scarsdale dead. Despite the author’s choice to expose the villains’ perspectives, Brenham still injects some mystery into the plot. The real names of Mad Dog’s henchmen, for example, are initially unknown, so readers aren’t sure when Scarsdale and Harper are questioning a guilty party. There’s likewise a baddie included who may have ties to one of Scarsdale’s previous cases and a preceding book, Price of Justice (2013). The story relies mostly on a solid amount of suspense; the cops are fairly certain who the killers are before the halfway point, and their lives may be in danger when Scarsdale gets to be too much of a “real pain in the ass” for Mad Dog. Outside the investigation, Brenham keeps things lively and constantly moving with surprisingly strong drama. Possible stirrings between the partners, for one, are impossible to ignore: Scarsdale’s long-distance girlfriend, Dani, is apparently angry over his boss’s demand that he stay on the case and forgo plans for a Germany visit, while Harper’s jealous ex-hubby, Preston, simply assumes that the two partners are having sex. Even Mad Dog gets in on the melodramatic action when he’s worried that girlfriend Maggie has run off and either Rastaman or Runt is hiding her somewhere. Brenham rounds out the novel with a car chase, a kidnapping or two, and more than one murder that has less to do with retribution for Snake and more with an increasingly unhinged Mad Dog.
Precise and unequivocally gripping; an edge-of-your-seat ride from beginning to end.
Brenham’s fast-paced police drama juggles a number of narrative lines and disparate characters.
The thriller opens with Austin Police Detective Jason Scarsdale staring down the black barrel of his service revolver, contemplating the blackness of existence since the death of his wife. Scarsdale, part of the department’s sex crime unit, opts for life. He continues to work on the many cases his superiors dump on his desk, and he vows to himself to become both father and mother to his daughter, Shannon. Brenham nimbly moves the plot along by introducing his second main character and switching to her point of view, a technique that enhances both characterization and perspective. Dani Mueller, aka Karla Engel, a crime analyst for the Austin Police Department, is a woman with a mission and a dark secret. Scarsdale’s investigations into two homicides take him into the seedy world of child pornography (where he runs afoul of his superiors), where a variety of lowlifes and petty criminals are all linked by a mysterious figure known only as the CEO. As the action heats up, so does his relationship with Mueller. Though their tragic backgrounds (the loss of his wife and her daughter) tend to draw them together, each has reason to keep a healthy professional distance. At the same time, Mueller’s secret threatens to undo both her life and Scarsdale’s investigation. The entire cast of characters—good and evil—is well-constructed and realistic, while the action-packed ending grows organically out of their varied personalities. So too does the emotional ending, which chooses intelligence over sentimentality.
A gripping, fast-moving and emotionally charged drama centered on well-drawn characters with genuine motives.
Kidnappers target a Texas detective in Brenham’s (Price of Justice, 2012) procedural thriller.
Young women are disappearing in the city of Temple, Texas, and Detective Matt Brady is convinced that it’s because someone is running a human-trafficking operation. At the same time, he’s on the outs with his girlfriend, and in the course of his investigation, he befriends veterinarian Tracy. However, it turns out that the villains responsible for the kidnappings have their sights set on her—and as Brady gets closer to the truth, they start gunning for him as well. The author delivers a rock-solid thriller that delves just as much into the bad guys’ lives as it does the good guys’. One huge reveal within the first 25 pages—the identity of the criminal boss—allows the story to focus more on the kidnappers themselves. Brady is a laudable, dedicated protagonist; even on his day off, he takes time to add a suspicious license plate number to his grocery list. He’s also personally invested in the case and looking for redemption since his last kidnapping case ended with the victim being killed. Brenham develops his supporting characters so well that some, despite their actions, become even more sympathetic than Brady: Chiles, one of the abductors, gives money to his sister and his nephew with Down syndrome; Chiles’ partner, Weaver, nearly panics when a victim-to-be too closely resembles his niece; and Crandall, a homeless man who witnessed a woman being snatched, regrets his estranged relationship with his son. There are times when Brady’s investigation seems a little too effortless; he declares every disappearance as a kidnapping, often with no witnesses or even signs of a struggle, and later, he’s assigned a murder that just happens to connect with everything else. But readers likely won’t care about these specifics, as once the villains sic a shadowy, terrifyingly meticulous hit man on Brady and Tracy, the book delivers multiple scenes of nail-biting intensity.
First-rate crime fiction for those who like their cops and criminals on a level playing field.
A trio kidnaps a 13-year-old girl and demands her uncle’s murder in exchange for her freedom in this thriller.
Cailey Marshall is like any eighth-grader—anxious to fit in with her cooler peers. In order to join an exclusive clique of girls at her school, she accepts a dare to sneak into an old, abandoned house and retrieve an item that proves that she did so. However, in the course of completing the challenge, she’s kidnapped by a stranger—a hulking man named Clint Connard. Cailey loses consciousness during the abduction, and when she comes to, she finds herself in a dark, unfamiliar room, bound and unable to escape. Her three captors—Clint and two women, Anne and Julia—inform her that she won’t be released until her father, Barry, murders his brother, Stuart. They give Barry strict instructions: He can’t call the police; he must produce proof that he’s done the deed; and he has seven days to do it—or Cailey dies. Author Brenham (Rampage, 2015, etc.) artfully makes the reader experience the same anxious uncertainty that afflicts Barry and his wife, Erin. They’re afraid to contact the authorities and have reason to believe they’re being closely watched. Also, Stuart has sketchy dealings in his past, but he vehemently denies possessing any knowledge that would help locate Cailey. Barry, a former cop-turned-professor, has little choice but to try to find his daughter on his own or to come up with another strategic alternative. The author laces the entire novel with crackling suspense, offering just enough information to keep the reader engaged—but never too much, too soon. Also, Cailey is a memorable heroine; although she’s appropriately terrified, she’s also precociously resourceful and capable of extraordinary bravery when necessary. The plot can be confusing—sometimes unpredictability comes at the cost of coherence—and the story, as a whole, is a touch convoluted. However, the novel remains a darkly atmospheric and deeply unsettling experience, overall.
An arresting, intelligently crafted drama.