If Mary Higgins Clark ever wrote an action flick, it might come off something like this. Oklahoma skip tracer (and devoted single mom) Sarah Keller has built a respectable, no-drama life for her precocious, precious five-year-old daughter Zoe and herself—except when she’s at work, tracking down deadbeat dads, delinquent witnesses, and the like. But a freak school bus accident (damn those cellphones!) shatters the quiet domesticity when an ER medical test reveals Sarah’s big secret—Zoe is not her daughter.
In fact, Zoe’s her niece, the daughter of Sarah’s sister Bethany who was murdered by the Fiery Branch of the New Covenant, a cult of meth-dealing, Bible-thumping Looney Tunes led by the charismatic Eldrick Worthe, Zoe’s paternal grandfather. And Eldrick wants his granddaughter brought back into the family fold.
Unsure of whom to trust and afraid Zoe will be taken from her, Sarah and Zoe take it on the lam. From then on, it’s essentially one long, Ludlumesque cross-country odyssey, full of shootouts, car chases, radical nuns, and lots of things blowing up as the two fugitives try to dodge a trio of almost-cartoonish Fiery Branch psychos, assorted local police, an obsessed (and possibly rogue) FBI agent, and Michael Lawless, a handsome-but-tormented US marshall who has his own secrets.
Yes, “handsome.” There are also a fair share of romance conventions woven into this tale, giving it an odd, Lifetime vibe. But it’s the opening scenes, when Sarah is simply doing her job, serving legal papers on a woman embezzler, that really hooked me and made me care what ultimately happens. It’s good old-fashioned detective work, capped by a little scam that would do Rockford proud. And the payoff is delicious. A whole book of this would have been fine with me.
But once the hunter becomes the hunted, the full range of Sarah’s formidable skills are back-burnered and the plot unfolds in a more or less linear fashion, filled with extended, ready-for-the-multiplex action set pieces (including an awesome showdown in an aircraft graveyard) that don’t so much drive the story as fill it. Many of these would be real kick-the-seat-in-front-of-you stuff on the big screen, but they too often fall a little short on a cold, dry page.
Still, it’s clear Edgar-winner Meg Gardiner knows her stuff. It may just be a chase, but it’s one helluva chase. Pass the popcorn.