Audra Kinney confronts every parent’s worst nightmare when she and her children become the victims of corrupt and scheming cops in the first novel by Beck, a pseudonym for Northern Irish crime writer Stuart Neville (So Say the Fallen, 2016, etc.).
After years of abuse, Audra works up the courage to take her two children and leave her husband, but 18 months later, she doesn’t have much of a long-term plan. When her friend casually invites her out to San Diego, she packs up the car and heads west. In the middle of the Arizona desert, a small-town sheriff finds an excuse to pull her over, arrest her, and separate her from her children. Soon Audra is headline news, and the cop’s story that she wasn’t traveling with children, that she must be crazy or even homicidal, becomes the accepted narrative. In San Francisco, however, a young man named Danny Lee hears about what is happening and decides to fly down to Arizona. Several years ago, Danny’s wife had a similar experience, and they never found their child—and his wife never recovered. Only Danny and FBI agent Jennifer Mitchell can help Audra uncover the truth behind the sheriff’s cruel plan and save her children. The premise is undoubtedly chilling—almost too much so, making it difficult to enjoy the book as “entertainment.” The characters, though somewhat interesting, are hard to relate to, and the short, choppy chapters, a common bestseller structure, do little to build suspense. There should have been more to say about the victimization of women by the media, or the horrors of human trafficking, but the moral complexity of the main characters somehow carries little resonance. The villains are too unequivocally evil.
In the end, beyond the nerve-wracking premise, there just aren’t enough surprises.