A tormented father must decide whether he’s seeing the ghost of his dead son or visions brought on by psychosis in this thriller.
It’s been six months since his 5-year-son, Alex, died, and Ian Colmes is, suffice to say, not coping well. Estranged from his wife and Alex’s mom, Alina, Ian is frequently late for his tech-support job. He’s rife with self-reproach, because he wasn’t able to protect his son from Leroy Eston, who allegedly kidnapped Alex. Cops found Eston dead from a gunshot wound, theorizing that his gun went off during a struggle with the boy, and he killed Alex before bleeding out himself. When Ian first hears sounds of his departed child playing, he attributes it to an overactive imagination but fears it could indicate schizophrenia. His son subsequently materializes and talks to Ian, often repeatedly saying things like he can’t find one of his stuffed animals. As Alex gets harder to ignore, even screaming for his father when Ian keeps the boy’s bedroom door shut, Ian debates whether he’s going crazy or experiencing ghostly encounters. When his visions start including Eston (or Eston’s apparition), Ian witnesses what seem to be scenes from Alex’s time in captivity. He’s sure Alex is trying to tell him something, namely that there’s more to the abduction than Ian knows. The novel gets a big dose of mystery, with phantoms a mere possibility for the bulk of the story. It’s never outright terrifying but certainly unsettling, especially once Eston makes appearances. Nevertheless, it wholeheartedly succeeds as a tale examining a distressed father. Ian, for example, grapples with the possibility of boss Justin Keplin firing him and hopes to make amends with Alina by, for starters, attending group counseling sessions. The narrative, too, from Ian’s perspective, is generally depressing, with a pajama-clad Alex asking Ian for a hug but vanishing before his father can embrace him. Nicolai (Todd, 2015, etc.) amps up the suspense in the final act, when a proactive Ian delves into Eston’s life. There’s a twist or two, as well as a gratifying wrap-up that leaves just a bit open for interpretation.
More curious than spooky, but featuring a riveting protagonist haunted by his own guilt.