In Millson’s (9,000 Miles of Fatherhood, 2014) novel, we have frantic father with missing kids, a ruthless, charismatic Latter-day Saint “prophet,” his breakaway settlement south of Salt Lake City, his vicious henchmen, and a whole leaky bag of chicanery and deadly mayhem.
As prologue, geologist Annie McKeefe disappears while trying to plot a gas pipeline route in the Arizona backcountry. Six months later, the real story begins with Tom McKeefe, her still devastated husband and father of their two children. Then the kids disappear, and Tom is accused of killing them on a camping trip. Detective Rulon Allred of the Salt Lake City Police Department seems totally convinced of Tom’s guilt. But in fact Allred is a loyal lieutenant of the fanatical Everett Deavers, president of the Church of the Blood Atonement in his settlement of Redemption, Utah. So our hero, Tom, must find his kids—hopefully alive—and the real killers in order to clear his name. We do have good guys here, among them Carter Miguel, Pulitzer-winning reporter for the Salt Lake Beacon; old desert rat Gerdeen Dyer; and Casey Reynolds, who is very rightly concerned about the kids in Redemption. Soon Tom is on the run. A young boy’s mutilated body has been found outside of Redemption, and Allred claims it is that of Eddie McKeefe when—as he knows—it is the young son of the Dykstras, a family that Deavers has had killed. Looking for a key witness, Tom winds up in the Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) in northern Mexico, which ultimately exposes yet another of Allred’s lies. Now it’s all closing in on Deavers, making him all the more dangerous and the good guys all the more determined to bring him down.
As a lifelong newspaperman, Millson has two things going for him: He knows how to write (although he could use a copy editor), and he also knows the newspaper business, politics, and cops. We know from the get-go that Tom is an innocent man and that he not only has to save his kids and clear his name, but he has to fight a crushing sense of despair. Millson gives us characters who are easy to hate (Deavers, Allred, the throwback Jackson Reems) and to love (scruffy but knowing Gerdeen, staunch ally Carter, and Casey, who will be Tom’s final salvation). A particularly good episode is his incredible trek through Copper Canyon and his meetup with Emilio, the always happy and always drunk drug running pilot who rescues him more than once. This is a jam-packed novel, the run-up to the climax is well handled, and the tension is palpable as Tom sneaks into Redemption and sets off a nail-biting finale.
Utah is known for its striking landscape and Latter-day Saint presence. Here we get both. And a well-crafted plot.