In this debut novel from screenwriter Levien, a kidnapped child leads an emotionally wounded private detective and his client down a relentlessly grim trail from middle America to the darkest deserts of Mexico.
Young Jamie Gabriel is in the middle of his predawn paper route when he’s snatched from an Indianapolis street by strip-club bouncer Tad Ford and his partner Rooster Mintz. Fourteen months pass before his parents, Paul and Carol, paying yet another hopeless visit to the police station, realize that Captain James Pomeroy, who assured them that their son ran away, has assigned some 20 officer-hours to the case, less than two hours per month. So the time is ripe for them to follow up a tip from a sympathetic cop and hire private investigator Frank Behr, an ex-cop whose career took a nosedive when he ran afoul of Pomeroy and his own son was accidentally killed. It’s not long before Behr gets results by turning up leads the cops should have unearthed within days, and not long after that before Paul talks Behr into letting him ride along on his interrogations. Identifying the two experienced abductors, one of whom specializes in breaking down the defenses of young victims to help make them compliant enough for the sex trade, leads to a series of frustrating dead ends even as it alerts Tad and Rooster’s paymaster that someone’s on his trail. A long night’s worth of obligatory scenes—a pair of replacement goons wait outside a restaurant where Behr’s enjoying a rare date as Paul, left on his own, decides to break into the paymaster’s house looking for evidence—leads to a confrontation so shattering that the inevitable Mexican postlude is almost anticlimactic.
Despite some pivotal plot twists that are more emotionally wrenching than plausible, the novel is a remarkably assured exercise in grabbing you by the throat and shaking you until the very end.