The search for a ruthless killer brings together the police departments and the citizenry of two small Missouri towns.
This debut novel, a thriller set in the quiet towns of Blackhorse and Sweetwater, follows a crowded cast of primary characters whose back stories converge. Former U.S. Marshal Stuart Riedel, seriously injured in a takedown, moves with his wife and three children from Chicago to Blackhorse, where he has been hired as a police detective. He immediately becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of an apparently unknown young woman (“There were no real leads at this point, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. He just needed to continue bulldogging the case and working the streets. Being new in town made him feel like a rookie again”). Simultaneously, over in Sweetwater, Charlie Joe Bingham, an impetuous young lawyer, represents her friend Audrey Lemoine in court in a child custody case. When Charlie Joe engages in some courtroom antics that are less than orthodox and result in a violent outburst by Audrey’s husband, Neil, the judge assigns her to a month’s service in Legal Aid. The posting forces her to work closely with childhood friend and love interest Sheriff Jeremiah Stone. Meanwhile, a psychopathic killer lurks in the woods, his sights set on Charlie Joe and Reidel and his family. Readers should understand rather quickly how most of these characters are related, but the real question is who will survive. Buck displays some impressive skills. The complicated plot is well organized, and the author moves the focus smoothly back and forth between the two towns, gradually building tension. Despite the careful construction of the narrative, there are a few problems with the text. The timeline seems a bit off, as Stone and Charlie Joe must be at least a bit older than the story implies if he is already a sheriff and she a licensed lawyer. Then there is the occasional inconsistency—a friend’s house is three blocks away early in the story and 15 blocks away later on. And the author allows a few minor linguistic errors to creep in. At one point, for example, Buck writes that someone has been “prosecuted to the full extend [sic] of the law.”
While flawed, this thriller about a psychopath still delivers plenty of action and a fine introduction to a new author.