Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Review: Charlie Davis is a man who has settled. Six years ago, he was living a life of excitement and purpose. As a journalist, he was based out of Uzbekistan, chronicling the people's turmoil from government oppression. While there, he met the love of his wife, Julie. A native of London, Julie worked in Uzbekistan, helping citizens and trying, like Charlie, to raise awareness of their situation. This life of excitement peaked one day during a protest demonstration.
A very pregnant Julie attended the demonstration with Charlie and her old friend and romantic flame, Alisher Byko and his wife and son. In the heat of the demonstration, a passionate Byko stood on the statue of the Uzbekistan leader and begin to speak in resistance. In that same instant, the government's police arrived and began shooting at the protesters. Charlie climbed a tower to get a better vantage point for photographing the horrific scene. From this higher view, Charlie witnessed Byko's wife and child being murdered. He felt a shot of pain in his back and soon realized that he too had been shot.
Fortunately, those days are behind them now. Charlie accepted a position at the LA Times and Julie stays home, raising their two children. Everything seems to be normal. But as is often the case, especially if you're reading a thriller, turmoil rests just below the surface.
Julie has recently returned from a trip to New York to visit her sister. To celebrate, she decides to take the family for a day of fun at Disneyland. In a rather terse exchange, Charlie states that he has to go into work, so Julie ends up taking the kids herself. In this moment, we are first given a glimpse into a bit of tension in their marriage. At the LA Times office, Charlie is informed by his boss that he will have to start traveling for overseas reports, as a means to justify him keeping his job. Charlie is fearful of the change, especially after his experience six years ago, but agrees to discuss it with Julie.
But he never gets that chance. On their return trip from the happiest place on earth, Julie and the kids get stuck in typical LA traffic. She is on the phone with Charlie, discussing alternate routes, and agrees to call him as soon as she escapes the largest part of the traffic. But the call doesn't come. Fearful for her safety, Charlie races to the area he sent her to. There, he finds police surrounding her car. The kids are both safe, but Julie is nowhere to be found.
Distraught, Charlie quickly learns that Julie never visited her sister in New York. Instead, she flew to London. What drew her to her old home country? Even more troubling, what caused her to lie to him? The police are convinced that Julie was having an affair. They suspect that Charlie found out about the affair, and, enraged, murdered his wife. Determined to find his wife and clear his name, Charlie sets out on an international investigation that forces him to relive the darkest parts of his past to guarantee a safe future.
This is the debut novel of author Hank Steinberg, the mastermind behind the hit television series Without a Trace. Steinberg brings that television sensibility to his writing by keeping a quick pace and suspenseful plotting. His characters all seem genuine, and I immediately felt for Charlie as a kind of average guy just trying to ensure the future of his family. The opening two thirds, in particular, are a really stellar example of what a thriller should do. We are given just enough history on the characters to be interested in their actions, and the narrative moves just fast enough to keep us wanting to continue. Unfortunately, the last third of the novel takes a turn into the ridiculously unbelievable. In the moment of what could have been a shocking reveal, we are instead treated to a twist that betrays the fantastic writing that precedes it. This does not, however, stop the action and entertainment factor. Steinberg's television experience ensures a good ride throughout the entire novel. I only wish that the ride wasn't interrupted by a momentary bump of disappointment.