Here and Gone is a child jeopardy thriller, a popular trope in the suspense/thriller genre because nothing creates more anxiety than our fears of children being lost, stolen, or harmed. This novel plucks every nerve of anxiety and paranoia.
Audra is driving through Arizona on her way to California when she is pulled over by a small-town sheriff who arrests her for drug possession after illegally searching her trunk and finding marijuana that was not put there by her. Arresting her, he has a deputy come and take the children to where they will be safe and calls for a tow for her car. After she’s booked, she asks the Sheriff where the deputy took the children and he replies, “What children?”
A brilliant beginning that had be immediately captivated and eager to see her vindicated and her children back safe and sound. Soon the F.B.I. and the State Police are all questioning Audra asking her what she did with the children and the American media has her convicted of murdering her children in a news frenzy similar to JonBenet Ramsey. Search parties are looking for bodies, not the children she is certain are alive. The Sheriff and Deputy have the power of the law and that credibility that makes her seem unhinged to the FBI officer Mitchell leading the federal investigation.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, Danny sees the news that painfully parallels what happened to his wife, a tragedy that led her to kill herself. He is certain the same thing is happening again – corrupt pedophiles using the dark net pay corrupt law enforcement officers to steal children so that the parents are suspected of murder. This is not a spoiler, we know this very early in the book when the pedophiles chat about their upcoming acquisition in their dark net forum. He goes to Arizona to see if by helping Audra, he might find out what happened to his daughter five years ago.
This is not a mystery, this is a thriller. We know who did it and why, we even know how they did it. The only question is whether Audra and Danny can find the children in time and win the day.
After its brilliant opening, Here and Gone went downhill pretty quickly. Audra is repeatedly told she has no right to a lawyer because she has not been arrested or indicted. That refers to the Sixth Amendment right to counsel that does not attach until court proceedings begin, but we have right to counsel from both the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. The Fifth Amendment right to counsel attaches during custodial interrogation and they were interrogating her. She was not free to leave. She had right to counsel.
But that is not what disappointed me the most. It was Audra whose life fell to pieces when she married Patrick who made her become an alcoholic by buying wine and putting it in the fridge. He did not open the bottle or pour it in a glass. She did that on her own. He also had a doctor prescribe pills to help her sleep and so on. She took them gladly. She became addicted, was hospitalized after what appeared to be an overdose. I get that her husband was awful and so was her mother-in-law and yes, he was an abusive, controlling monster. But he did not pour the alcohol down her throat. Eventually she quits drinking and pills, after a nun tells her that her husband was an enabler. He was not an enabler, he was an abuser. But buying a bottle of wine does not make anyone an addict without their full cooperation. It’s a terrible message and makes for an unsympathetic heroine.The back story is just bizarre and does not make me sympathetic to Audra. Also, the idea that she is then instantly better once she knows why she’s drinking (bad husband made her do it) is one of those things that get most books tossed.
There was one bright spot, Audra’s son Sean. I would read a book about him.He has pluck and brains. He is self-controlled, observant and perseveres. I am unhappy that his efforts to save himself and his sister result on delaying their rescue with more casualties and violence. They would have been better off if he had sat crying in the corner. That is another aggravation with the story. Grit should not be punished, particularly with kids.
The dark net forum is a bit bizarre as well. There’s a new person who does not follow the protocols. There’s squabbling like any online group…and impolitic chatter from the new member. This would lead me to infer that it was possibly infiltrated, which might have been an interesting way to complicate the overly simplistic plot. After all, we know who did it and why…so it’s just a matter of switching the balance of power to win, it’s disappointing that there was not some third wedge into the conspiracy.
Anyway, the police are corrupt. The state police and most of the FBI are sexist, brutal men operating at about 14% capacity. The subordinate FBI agent would die if he had to think in order to breathe. Even the competent agent is not that competent and is more reactive that proactive. It’s disappointing all around.
So yes, this book began with a brilliant premise, but it was frittered away with one-dimensional characters, an aggravating backstory, and a simplistic plot that disappoints again and again.
Here and Gone will be released July 13th. I received an e-galley for review from the publisher through NetGalley.
- Here and Gone at Penguin Random House
- Haylen Beck author site Haylen Beck is the pseudonym of Stuart Neville.
- Stuart Neville author site