In Palmer's follow-up to Helpless (2012), an unseen killer with a penchant for twisted games forces John Bodine, creator of a popular online game, to commit a series of crimes. If John doesn't follow instructions, his ailing wife, Ruby, will die.
A few years ago, John, 29, survived a harrowing ordeal in the mountains of Tibet: He had to cut the safety rope of a fellow climber and watch him plummet to his death during an avalanche or have everyone in their group die. But now, Ruby and John are supremely happy together—until he discovers a cancerous growth on her foot. Desperate for help after their insurance company refuses to cover the superexpensive drug she needs, he pulls off an elaborate scheme that involves hacking into the policy of one of his online game subscribers and moving into a new apartment under the name of the subscriber and his wife and receiving their benefits. Then, a man identifying himself as the subscriber calls and threatens to expose them unless John plays a game that first involves stealing expensive scarves from a department store, then escalates to robbing a liquor store and setting fire to a warehouse. Along the way, the killer, who follows John's every move with hidden microphones and cameras, brutally murders a female neighbor of his, abducts Ruby's mother and then Ruby herself. Is John's cop friend, a Tibet survivor, the tormentor? Palmer keeps things moving, but his lazy plot contrivances catch up with him. The reader, who is usually several steps ahead of John, won't have much trouble identifying the baddie. Suspending disbelief is a more difficult challenge.
Never dull, but feels more forced with each outlandish scene.