ASH by James Rayburn


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Briskly paced, vigorously written thriller about a man out to rescue his kidnapped 10-year-old son.

Author Rayburn—pen name for South African crime writer Roger Smith (Wake Up Dead, 2010, etc.)—kicks off this chase thriller with two startling scenes. The first surrounds Jane Ash, who, we later learn, may have been working for the United States against China. Now she's on an island beach, “part of a cluster flung like jewels between Bohai and the Yellow Sea.” As Jane gazes at paramour Victor Fabian, “a Zelig-like” associate of “dictators and strongmen and martinets," she spots a man who once made her feel "the kind of fear that came from being in the presence of pure evil.” She instinctively flees, climbing a sheer cliff, but the man pries her fingers loose and she falls to her death. The next scene, taking place a year later in a small town near Seattle, finds Jane’s son, Scooter, breakfasting with his father, Danny Ash, and a seemingly nurturing neighbor. In a stunning turnabout, the woman stops washing dishes, grabs a syringe, and plunges it into the boy’s neck. The boy pitches forward, the woman punches Ash in the gut, and "a scrum of men in dark clothes" burst in to abduct Scooter. Ash is off to find the boy. The kidnapped-child trope is well worn, but Rayburn revs it up. He throws Ash in with some perverse characters he draws in sharp, short takes. There are Patty Peach and her baby-faced accomplice, Orlando, assassins hired by Fabian. There's an information source too fat to leave his fetid bedroom. And there's Fabian, a clandestine associate of the president of the United States, who kidnapped the boy to silence Ash for telling the press the U.S. government had murdered his wife. Ash and company traverse an America of “sad, sagging houses” and “boarded up buildings,” presided over by “that clown in the Oval Office,” images adding heft to the foreground action. In the end, though, the Hitchcock-ian chase, speeding from the Northwest to the East Coast in search of the child, is the focus, and it’s more than enough.

Fast from the starting gate all the way to the finish line.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5385-0751-3
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: Blackstone
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019


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