by Owen Laukkanen
Series: Stevens & Windermere, #5Hardcover, 354 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016
Read:April 4 – 5, 2016
Not too long after the events of The Stolen Ones, a classmate of Kirk Stevens’ daughter, Andrea, a victim of bullying and neglect, kills himself. Andrea wants justice for the classmate — she wants the bullies punished, she wants the message to go forth that this kind of thing can’t happen, and she wants her father to insure that happens. He sympathizes, he even empathizes, but he really can’t do anything. But he pokes around a little bit — and he and Carla Windermere discover that there was a suicide pact — that some girl in Philly is supposed to be killing herself now, too.
They may not be able to do anything for the dead boy, but they can try to keep this girl alive.
Only . . . there is no girl. Or at least, she isn’t who she said she was. Mental alarm bells start going off, and the two agent soon figure out that there’s one person out there online, posing as a concerned stranger, helping others to commit suicide — maybe even talking them into it, for whatever reason they might have. Once you start to learn the reason, you become convinced that this person is a certain level of despicable.
The original suicide brought up a lot of memories for Carla — things she’d tried to forget from her school days. She throws herself into this investigation, putting even more pressure on herself than usual. She talks to her partner and her boyfriend less, develops a shorter fuse, and drinks and smokes worse than she usually does. She also refuses to tell anyone what’s going on == she’ll only say she’s trying to save kids’ lives.
The two start traveling the country, learning more about certain types of online forums than anyone should know, trying to hunt down their suspect before he/she gets talks another teen into making a mortal choice. The novel has breakneck pace, and enough twists to keep you engaged — all of which is good.
Because of the focus on Windermere, and the pressing nature of the investigation (not that their other cases have been leisurely), we spent absolutely no time with the Stevens family after Andrea brought a witness to her father. That’s just strange — granted, it wasn’t until after I was finished with the novel that I realized we hadn’t spent time with them — but I knew something was missing. The Stevens gang has been such a fixture for at least a few chapters in these books, to not have them is jarring. But we did get a lot of time with Carla and Mathers — actually about the same as usual (maybe less). But in comparison, we got a lot more. Still, the lack of personal lives in this novel drove home two things — the urgency Carla felt, and the weight of the rest of the emotions/regrets/anger she was dealing with.
This is the second novel in the last half-year that I’ve read dealing with people being talked into suicide. Both very different, both compelling in their own rights — this was a tad more believable, really. Still, I hope this isn’t a trend that continues.
I couldn’t believe how quickly I sped through this — not just because Laukkanen writes with lean, confident prose, but it was the characters, the plot — you read this and you just have to know how it turns out (okay, sure, you are rightly convinced that Kirk and Carla will get their man — but how, and what the body count will be along the way, that’s the question). Yeah, the weakest of the 5, but it was satisfying, entertaining and engaging. Good enough for me, and enough to keep me coming back for more.