This was an audiobook requested directly from the author on Goodreads’s lovely Audiobooks group; both description and sample sounded intriguing. And it is a good story, with a good narration: George Kuch is a unique and engaging reader. My only issue with his reading was his delivery of the toddler’s voice, which – combined with a certain brattiness to the dialogue as written – made me flinch every time the child came into a scene. The bedtime scene made me want to go get a hold of this book.
It is not a fast-paced story. The main character is Sam, a doctor who has just retired, and who is addicted to working out doors. And I use the word “addicted” advisedly: it was actually a little worrying that whenever Sam is not outdoors mowing and weeding and planting he is longing to be. The book’s entire first hour is an amiable ramble through Sam’s gardening, and huge tracts of the rest of the book are very much like it. That knotweed is a tough son of a gun.
Sam’s little brother Billy disappeared when they were, respectively, twelve and eleven, and Sam has survived the past fifty years believing that Billy was taken, probably killed, by a seriously unstable neighbor who was a relentless bully back in the day. After all these years Sam still suffers – is his brother still alive somewhere? If so, why has he never at least contacted his family? Did he suffer? What happened It’s not something that ever loses its grip on a person.
But there were a few problems as well. I found it a little hard to believe that Sam completely forgets to report something extraordinary Healey – the bully – cries out in extremis; there was a lot going on, but I would think that when someone says that his father killed his mother and made him bury her it might stick in one’s memory.
Something that kept throwing me off was the age difference between the two brothers. Again, at the time of the disappearance, Sam was twelve and Billy eleven … but Sam comes off as years older than Billy in the flashbacks. When he disappeared Billy was eleven and Sam was twelve, yet the dynamic was more like little brother with much older brother.
Apparently, from the author’s introduction, part of the inspiration of the book was that his wife challenged him to write a book from a killer’s point of view, and so chunks of the book explore the thought processes of a psychopath. There were mixed results with that technique. On one hand, he did an excellent job of masking the killer’s identity. I thought I was being fairly clever in picking up what I thought were pretty obvious clues. What I didn’t realize was that the clues were built to be obvious: it was a trap, for which I fell.
What wasn’t so successful was some of the motivation behind the killings. It got a little eye-roll-inducing. The killer’s mommy never baked him chocolate chip cookies. So sad. And I find it difficult to swallow that the worst epithet this bad guy could come up with for a man who did something terrible to a woman he loved was “the big jerk”.
It also bothered me that though Sam specifically says he fears for his grandson (not the bratty toddler, his older brother), but nothing seems to change in anyone’s behavior; no precautions, nothing. (And it really bothered me that the eleven-year-old grandson pulls something off near the end of the book which is unlikely and frankly unnecessarily ridiculous. How on earth could an eleven-year-old using his own laptop track an agent’s IP address? Okay, having done a search I find it’s apparently it’s not impossible, but still dubious. And how would the police not get there first?)
All of that being said, the writing was solid – there were some really nice descriptions, and good characterizations – I very much liked Sam and his wife. I liked the lingering effects that the horror of Billy’s disappearance still has on Sam. I liked the eventual solution to the crimes. I liked the time travel device. I wish the pace had been a little less leisurely, but there was a lot to enjoy here.