A harrowing yet awkwardly written suspense yarn centered on a relentlessly abusive child prostitution ring.
Swendsen (A Real Nightmare, 2012), a retired conservation warden and special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, opens his sophomore effort with a ghastly act of cruelty: the murder of three young girls in an abandoned mansion in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Also found on the property are a helicopter landing pad and several fresh graves containing more young female corpses. Forty-something veteran Lt. Tom Provens is quickly on the scene, and he discovers that the mansion is just one of eight facilities in use by a well-oiled child prostitution ring carefully managed by the nefarious overlord Sir William Barthalomew. Sir William authorizes each shipment of new girls to these clandestine brothels in an operation so covert it has gone unnoticed by the local police. His business is a fully functioning hive of prostitution, employing a vast network of both male and female recruiters and location “landlords.” The novel also follows the desperate plights of the innocent victims taken from the streets and enslaved in sexual servitude, including Provens’ plucky 13-year-old niece, Janie. Provens gets lucky with a few good leads, prompting raids of several of the brothels. These developments accelerate the pace of Swendsen’s somewhat sluggish thriller, which features unsettling, graphic details of the sex slave trade. Several girls manage to escape their captors, while others are rescued by Provens’ brave, capable band of investigators. Most clever and elusive is Barthalomew, however, who continually slithers his way out of Provens’ grasp by absconding to Colombia, though his kingdom threatens to crumble beneath a careless combination of greed and malevolence. Of course, Swendsen’s subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart; the harvesting of underage girls for sinister purposes tends to be difficult material. Although the prose can be repetitive and peppered with grammatical errors, the novel comes to life in its second half, as Provens, the sturdy investigator, propels the story to a riveting conclusion in the Ecuadorian jungle.
A raw, realistic portrait of evil, child abuse and justice.