The three children of a murdered woman hide in plain sight.
Jack Bright, Bauer’s (The Beautiful Dead, 2017, etc.) plucky main character, is only 14, but he's the sole support of what’s left of his family. Three years ago, in 1998, Jack’s mother, Eileen, left him and his two younger sisters in their broken-down car while she went in search of a roadside telephone. Her body was found several days later, and the children’s father, after trying to cope, disappeared. Now, unbeknownst to social services and truancy officers, Jack and his sisters, Joy and Merry, still inhabit their clutter-bound family home. Jack and Merry maintain the exterior to put off authorities. Jack also maintains the family’s fragile economy by burglarizing homes, stealing only healthy food and occasionally napping in a victim’s bed. Thanks to the consistency of this M.O., the police call him the Goldilocks burglar, although they're not even close to identifying or nabbing him. The book's third-person perspective shifts among multiple characters, major and minor, but is always vividly real. Heavily pregnant Catherine, whose husband, Adam, is away on business, drives off an unseen home invader only to find an abalone-handled knife placed next to a scrawled note: “I could have killed you.” A never entirely credible reluctance stops her from calling the police or telling Adam. Marvel, a senior detective exiled to “darkest Somerset” after a fall from grace at his London post, disdains the hunt for Goldilocks as much as he longs for a homicide case. Reynolds, a vain but deeply insecure detective, visits his aging mother often at her new home but ignores her concerns about the three seemingly feral children next door. Perspectives and offhand clues converge as Marvel finds that a rash of small-town burglaries just might lead to a career-salvaging murder investigation and to the cold case of Eileen Bright. All of the characters, though flawed human beings in varying degrees, are likable, which gets in the way of creating a convincing villain.
This thriller, though gripping to the end, is a victim of its own niceness.