A troubled Vietnam vet kidnaps two teenage girls in this fast-paced thriller, the third in Wilson’s (Never Fear Christmas Terrors, 2015, etc.) series.
Cedar Falls, Iowa, is supposedly the safest town in America, but all is not well in this normally sleepy burg. Residents are still coming to grips with a homecoming game massacre that left two dead at the end of 2004, not to mention the relatively recent murder of high school student Jeremy Gustaffsson by the serial killer Pogo, who’s still at large. Then Heather Crompton and Kelly Carter, two beloved Sky High cheerleaders, vanish. Readers know, although the townsfolk don’t, that Heather’s uncle, a disturbed loner named Declan Hunter, has trapped the girls in an underground bunker. Fortunately, fellow student Tad McGreevy has a special talent: he has vivid dreams that allow him to “see” the actions of evildoers, which may help locate the girls. Meanwhile, other residents of Cedar Falls must deal with their own dramas, such as Janice Kramer, who’s pregnant with Gustaffson’s baby, and high school senior Sean Carpenter, who must make a difficult decision about the fate of his comatose wife. It’s a lot of action for a novel that clocks in at less than 250 pages, and Wilson is mercilessly efficient in resolving various conflicts, but it often comes at the expense of character development. The idea that Hunter, a PTSD-stricken veteran, might commit a horrible crime in a misguided attempt to assuage his loneliness is intriguing, but there’s little attempt to plumb his or any other characters’ psyches. Instead, Wilson sprinkles the novel with staccato strings of words in lieu of more insightful writing: “Declan Hunter’s tone was plaintive. Mournful. Robotic”; “Melody had been fine one moment. Happy. Energetic. Healthy. Full of life.” The book has all the elements of a compelling mystery and an inventive paranormal twist, so it’s unfortunate that minor characters’ problems distract from its more intriguing elements. However, one must credit Wilson for treating her teenage protagonists with respect, as they face down adult dilemmas and resolve them with maturity and grace.
A promising premise that begs for more focused character development.