This is a thriller with a slow start that gradually picks up, until you’re racing to the dramatic finish, second-guessing everything and trying to untangle the plot.
…Or at least that’s what the author attempts. I’m not sure he fully succeeds. I don’t want to spoil the ending in case you decide to read it in spite of this mediocre review, but the finale disappointed me.
It starts out well, with a divorced father desperately trying to unravel the mystery of his teenage daughter’s disappearance. He gradually discovers a shady side to his daughter’s associates, and a criminal connection that ultimately leads him to discover her whereabouts. There’s a human trafficking element, and some truly nasty players involved behind the scenes of a few local businesses with innocent facades.
Seventeen-year-old Sydney Blake’s summer is shaping up to be typical for a teenager: she’s spending it with her father, and she has landed a part-time job at a local hotel. One night, Syd fails to come home from her shift, and her father Tim is a bit alarmed. However, that alarm turns to full-on panic after he visits the Just Inn Time hotel and the manager claims that Syd has never worked there. Grilling his daughter’s friends for clues leads Tim nowhere — except to threats against his life — and as he frantically chases every lead, he can’t help but wonder if Syd is even still alive. Despite a growing list of unanswered questions, all Tim knows for certain is that he must continue searching for his daughter — no matter how high the stakes become.
The relationship with his ex-wife and her new boyfriend is well portrayed, as well as the main character’s difficulty adjusting to single life, finding himself alone at middle-age with no prospects when he’d expected to still be married and making a decent life for his family. It’s all handled reasonably well without distracting from the central conflict, which is the need to find his daughter and possibly save her life.
My guess is that the characterization was a deliberate attempt to suck the reader in by creating a sympathetic protagonist for them to identify with and root for. It mostly works for the first part of the book.
It all falls apart for me in two places: the behavior of the criminal element is almost too over-the-top to be believed, and the connection that ties it all together – his daughter, him and the criminals – is a giant stretch of the imagination for me. Too big for me to lose the sense of unreality that lingers until the finale.
There’s also a bit character whose demise is set up in a bit too pat a manner: introduce character, make sympathetic, reveal big secret and tie to protagonist, betrayal on both sides, kill off character, everybody is sad and remorseful. It’s like he threw in a Dobby but didn’t quite manage to make me care (Harry Potter reference).
Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfectly serviceable beach or subway read, and an easy diversion if you’re in need of something light. Barclay does a workmanlike job of moving things along and his characterization is mostly on-the-mark, if somewhat perfunctory. Just don’t expect to give a damn about most of the characters or feel like the end was worth the wait.
I guess I shouldn’t expect too much from a thriller. This would probably make a much better movie than a book, since the actors themselves could conceivably lend depth to the characters that lack it. There are also a few great action scenes that would keep viewers jumping.
For the genre, probably a solid 7 out of 10. For my personal taste, I’ll say 6.