In Ernst’s debut thriller, a married woman accepts a casual invitation which leads to a kidnapping.
Former realtor Janet has a good husband, two adult children and a decent life. In her early 40s, she’s petite, attractive and fit, but she doesn’t have many friends. While at a bank, she has a chance encounter with a stranger and departs—barely missing a bank robbery. Later, the stranger, David, calls her after finding her contact information on a real estate website. Eventually, she agrees to meet David at a Starbucks to chat and hear more about his experience as a hostage during the holdup; Janet tells no one of her plans, including her husband. David seems likable, but Janet declines his invitation to go to his house to evaluate his property. In the coffee shop’s parking lot, David’s wife, Kelly, accosts the pair, believing Janet to be David’s girlfriend. Soon, Kelly kidnaps them at gunpoint, forces them into Janet’s car and takes them to an isolated underground location in the woods. Like the principal characters in Chevy Stevens’ Still Missing (2010) and Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010), Janet is held against her will and treated abominably, but, unlike those novels, the narrative is limited almost exclusively to Janet’s entrapment—nary a page is devoted to her family’s reaction to her sudden, unexplained disappearance. David and Kelly tell Janet their respective tales of marital woe, and, as a sort of amateur counselor, she psychoanalyzes their twisted marriage. Readers may at times feel like rubberneckers passing a grisly accident, wanting to see just how bad the relationship smashup is. One can’t help but root for beleaguered Janet, who’s remarkably resilient and compassionate in adversity. Overall, the novel can be seen as a cautionary tale about questionable behaviors that have become horror-flick clichés. The lessons: Don’t agree to clandestine meetings with strangers, and, if at all possible, avoid cabins in the woods.
A claustrophobic, occasionally suspenseful three-character tale.