A timely topic—the police shooting of a Hispanic youth—from a bestselling writer better known for domestic dramas.
As the novel opens, Washington, D.C., police officer Mike Anderson has already experienced a tragic jolt—a crazed gunman shot his partner, Ritchie, as the two men were leaving the station. Ritchie survived, but with brain trauma that will likely prevent him from ever re-entering the force. Mike is wracked with guilt and is probably suffering from PTSD. His wife, Jamie, is concerned, but with three young children and Mike's teen son, Henry, to care for, a rift grows between them borne out of long silences. And then there's another shooting: Mike is called to a gang-ridden neighborhood, a scuffle ensues, Mike sees a gun and shoots a teenage boy. But when no gun is found on the teen, cries of racism and police brutality are the bywords that lead to charges against Mike. Mike and Jamie's relationship deteriorates further as Jamie assumes the shooting was an accident borne of Mike's PTSD, while Mike insists he saw the gun. Mike finds an unlikely ally in Christie, Henry's mother, with whom he had only a casual relationship; the two are amicable co-parents. She believes Mike without hesitation and even enlists her boss, Elroy, a private detective, to help. Mike moves out when he can no longer bear Jamie's version of events—she goes to the dead boy's mother to beg forgiveness—and Jamie is afraid she has pushed Mike into Christie's waiting arms. Though rife with possibilities, the novel has problems: a disconnected subplot involving Jamie's sister, Lou, a zookeeper intensely attached to a pregnant elephant; an unsophisticated perspective on race and policing in America; and an ending that works out so remarkably well for the principal players that the death of a young boy simply becomes grist for a marital drama.
Pekkanen reliably builds strong, interesting characters, but here, a plot too important for melodrama fails them.