A disenchanted, depressed psychologist finds himself caring for a rebellious teenage girl and helping police investigate a racist group in Percy's debut thriller.
Psychologist Ed Northrup is "burned out" and unhappy in Monastery Valley, Montana, and still feels guilt over a young patient's death from 27 years ago. His adulterous ex-wife, Mara, wants Ed's professional opinion on her 14-year-old daughter, Grace, who's twice attempted suicide. When Ed repeatedly declines over the phone, Mara defiantly shows up in person with her daughter in tow. Soon, Ed is dealing directly with Grace, an opinionated, stubborn teen who's terrified of abandonment. At the same time, he works with cops on a case that indirectly involves another of his patients, Maggie; her husband, Vic, who's suspected of abusing her, may be linked to a hate group that's posting flyers opposing an African-American gubernatorial candidate. Percy highlights the story's thriller components, such as the unsettling nature of the hate group, the Church of Jesus Christ of the American Promise, which offers its potential members assistance with tax problems before ultimately preaching racist sentiments. But the true focus, and the stronger subplot, is the tremulous relationship between Ed and Grace. It's tough to sympathize with the foul-mouthed Grace, despite her predicament; she's rude to nearly everyone, including a waitress who tells her she can't order a burger before the lunch service begins. But whether readers find Grace an object of pity or annoyance, she'll definitely ignite an emotional response. (The plotline involving Vic and the church is resolved well before the end, and the book closes, quite appropriately, with Ed and Grace.) Percy superbly relates much of the story with visuals: the recurrent image of Grace with her hood up and face in her phone; a belligerent church assistant's Stetson, which inspires a nickname; and Ed imagining his depression as a snarling black dog. The sole female deputy, Andi Pelton, is a laudable character as she adjusts to her new job, but it's somewhat predictable that she's Ed's romantic interest.
A light, breezy thriller, but its tale of a troubled man acting as a father to an equally troubled girl has exceptional dramatic impact.
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