Two Girls Down is a compelling mystery that grabbed me from the first page and never let go. Single mother Jamie Brandt is taking her girls to a birthday party, stops at a store to run in and pick up a present and comes out in minutes to find them gone. It’s every parents’ nightmare.

Luckily for Jamie, her aunt called in Alice Vega whose record on finding missing children is second to none. Vega has a preternatural sense of what to ask, how to make connections, and she also has the Bastard on retainer, the best hacker ever. Seeking local help, Vega connects with “Cap” Caplan, a local private investigator who mostly does divorce and skip trace jobs. He was a cop though, and she needs some connections with local police since Hollows, the cop in charge of the investigation is arrogant and refuses to work with her. Cap is skilled at reading people and putting them at ease and the two of them work together well. Not seamlessly, the push each other’s boundaries and jostle each other, but as a team they are effective.

Their investigation is coherent and systematic. There are no inexplicable leaps of logic. They read people well, they make connections, and while it seems almost magical how they get ahead of the police, it’s rooted in skills and research, not in something off the page. This has all the fairness of a good procedural. It is also very complex, particularly given that I intuited the guilty party one first meeting, though there was no reason to do so. It was a visceral dislike and their guilt was wish fulfillment, but I was happy to have my wish fulfilled.

Two Girls Down is more than a suspenseful thriller with a complex plot. The investigation may drive the pace of the story, fast and headlong, moving quickly and relentlessly, but the art is in the relationship between Vega and Cap, how they get to know each other and work together. There is also Cap and Nell, his daughter, and how they talk to each other with such love and integrity. It’s a beautiful relationship.

There’s so much compassion for people in this story, even for some of the miscreants and failures, the drug addicts, the lost souls. Cap, in particular, seems to find human connection with so many. Vega is more complicated, but while she’s bruised, she is not broken. There is a ruthlessness to her that I like when paired with Cap’s empathy. They balance each other. I picked Two Girls Down up just before going to bed, intending to read a couple pages, just to get me started, and a few hours later, the mother Jamie is frantic because a week has passed. I was shocked, how could a week pass? I was only going to read for a few minutes. That took me out of the book enough to finally go to sleep at 4 a.m. So, while I recommend this book highly, be sure you don’t start it when you have a deadline hanging fire, you will completely ignore it to follow Cap and Vega.

I received an e-galley of Two Girls Down from the publisher through NetGalley.