In the author’s debut thriller, a man’s Los Angeles vacation takes unexpected turns when he realizes that the cousin he’s come to visit has gone missing.
Jake Wood’s LA excursion from Iowa to see his cousin Jana begins smashingly when he meets Jana’s parts-model (mostly hands) friend, Laurie. But when attempts to contact Jana result in a few vague text messages, Jake and Laurie go looking for her, suspecting something’s wrong when Jana’s employer, scientist Dr. Gregory Mirek, doesn’t seem to have an office in Los Angeles. Soon the couple is submerged in deception, blackmail and very possibly murder. Kolinski’s novel has a strange but fascinating structure: A romantic relationship between two lead characters starts before the mystery begins. This fits the storyline—the two initially believe that Jana is too busy with her job to respond to emails or texts—but it also makes sense when Jake and Laurie eventually travel together, even hopping a plane to Las Vegas. Jake is a complex protagonist, all too happy to escape Iowa, where he was the sole survivor of a workplace killing spree and suspected by an overzealous detective. And he can deliver understated one-liners: In one of the story’s best scenes, he and Laurie troll a college campus for Dr. Mirek’s research team, and seeing a group photo, Jake drolly asks, “Which one of these guys looks disgruntled to you?” The plot includes accusations of animal abuse—the doc’s field is primatology—and unflinching descriptions may scare off some animal lovers, but Kolinski doesn’t dwell on the imagery or exploit it for shock value. It’s simply another murky element of the couple’s descent into a seedy world, in the same way that Vegas is cast in a less-than-glamorous light with smoke-laden, tattered casinos. The mystery hints at future events, including an early indication of Jana’s whereabouts, and doesn’t deliver easy answers; most of the plot unfolds via Jake’s and Laurie’s theories, which are on the mark only some of the time.
Readers will eagerly follow the reckless, entertaining protagonist as he navigates LA and Vegas in this sinuous mystery.