A man becomes entangled in a conspiracy of murder and deceit with ties to a years-old murder charge for which he received an acquittal in Pineiro’s (co-author, with Joe Weber: Ashes of Victory, 2018, etc.) thriller.
David Wallace’s encounter with Kate Larson at a San Francisco bar ends with her cryptic note: “Things were not as they seemed 7 years ago.” Back then, in his hometown of Austin, cops arrested David for the murder of Heather Wilson, with whom he’d had an affair. Though evidence later exonerated him, he’s still wracked with guilt: his wife, Evelyn, presumably distraught over his arrest, died shortly thereafter in a car accident that killed her and their son. Soon after meeting Kate, David witnesses a thuggish man and an Asian woman accosting her. He intervenes but is knocked unconscious and wakes up near a body (not Kate’s) that, according to police, goes missing. Things only get stranger back in Texas, where David runs Hill Country Haven, a shelter for battered women. He’s fairly certain he spots Kate at the airport, and, sure enough, he gets a note telling him to go to Heather’s old place at a specified time. Before long, he and his HCH assistant, Margaret Black, catch the attention of Detective Beckett Mar, who had worked Heather’s case and still considers David guilty. New murders in Austin complicate matters along with an abduction, the FBI’s involvement, and a shocking number of secrets David uncovers revolving around the series of grim events that unfolded seven years earlier.
Pineiro’s novel thrives on copious plot turns. But the author wisely doesn’t save every twist until the end; the identity of the thug in San Francisco is one that readers learn relatively early, and it’s a doozy. The narrative eventually reveals a massive conspiracy that involves David’s former place of employment and a long list of cast members. Pineiro maintains cohesion by fully developing characters and relationships. For example, FBI Agent Jessica Herrera eases into the story with her connection to David—she had introduced him to Evelyn and therefore has a reason, perhaps, to despise him. As a protagonist, David is an even mix of sympathy and character flaws. His guilty conscience, for one, is understandable. But he’s also a man with a somber past. His father had regularly abused David and his mother for years before beating his mother to death. Other characters likewise shine: Ryan Horowitz, David’s supportive friend and attorney; and Margaret, a strong woman who survived a gang rape. The prose, in the voice of narrator David, is simple but potent; a line from HCH’s ad campaign, “Be Not Afraid,” becomes a refrain for characters (not just David) to prevail over deterrents. The steady pace sags under a surfeit of exposition in the final act. But high-stakes perils unfold throughout, and surprises persist all the way to the epilogue.
Zigzagging plot rife with suspense and character detail.