A tedious effort to create a gothically-tinged bestseller.
Stroud’s title is, of course, ironic, for a weird game’s afoot in Niceville, Ga. Ten-year-old Rainey Teague has disappeared on his way home from school, and though a search party is dispatched, it is some time before he’s found crying and locked inside a crypt in a local Confederate cemetery. The crypt belongs to Ethan Ruelle, who died in a duel on Christmas Eve in 1921. Even more bizarre is that shortly before his disappearance, a security camera picked up an image of Rainey looking into a mirror in the window of a curiosity shop—one second he’s there, and the next he’s vanished. Stroud next lurches us in a new direction by introducing Coker, Danziger and Zane, a trio of truly unsavory characters. While Danziger and Zane are trying to elude capture by the cops and news helicopter that are giving chase, Coker calmly shoots the cops and the helicopter pilot—four shots, four hits. It’s clear he’s no ordinary killer—his expertise emerges because he’s in law enforcement himself. Meanwhile, Detective Nick Kavanaugh is trying to solve the mysterious disappearance—and even more mysterious reappearance—of the now-catatonic Rainey. Nick’s wife, Kate, a lawyer, is concerned about her husband’s preoccupation with the case and consults her father, a professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., who has an immediate suspicion about the magical potency of the mirror that had so fascinated Rainey. Stroud follows the bestseller party line in which when one doesn’t quite know what to do, one throws in a new character, preferably one with a self-consciously clever name (like police officer Mavis Crossfire).
Stroud manages to make his mysterious and violent doings both banal and vapid.