In Church’s debut thriller, a California schoolteacher’s search for her missing father in 1970s Barbados puts her in the middle of an ongoing fight over a much-desired piece of land.
When Drug Enforcement Administration agents show up at teacher Olivia Lassiter’s door, looking for her movie-producer dad, Del, she assumes that it’s related to drugs, due to Del’s constant association with the Hollywood crowd. Indeed, the agents claim that her father has a drug-running operation of his own and that he was recently spotted with her cousin, Aaron Law-Maddock, who was later found drowned—and whom she doesn’t even know. Olivia sees an agent swipe Del’s safe-deposit key, so she and her lawyer pal, Gail Kazarian, rush to the bank to get access to the safety-deposit box first. Inside are multiple surprises, including millions of dollars in bearer bonds and a birth certificate with Olivia’s birthdate but another name: Stella Harris. A couriered message from Del asks Olivia to take another key (from the box) to Perfidia, Barbados; then attorney Brendan Whitelaw, via phone, says that Del’s gone missing. She soon learns that Perfidia is heavily in debt and that the key to saving it may be the literal one that Olivia possesses. Soon, someone is following her and later accosts her and even sets her cabin on fire. Church manages, quite impressively, to maintain a sense of a hidden but perpetual threat. For example, most of the characters don’t provide straightforward answers to Olivia’s questions, which ultimately makes her wary of everyone. More than one man offers the possibility of romance, but these instances of tenderness are obscured by the constant, exhilarating atmosphere of distrust. Church’s indelible descriptions of Perfidia, meanwhile, turn even an innocuous cane field into something unnerving: “Dense foliage on either side of the path topped by the blackness of the sky created a tunnel alive with dappled shadows.” There are plenty of shocks throughout the story, including revelations about the land’s history and about a few characters’ relationships.
Overpowering dread and a leery protagonist make this a suspenseful read.