Where are the children in these suspenseful novels?

Cal Weaver did the unthinkable. While driving home one rainy night, a teenage girl tapped on his car window and asked for a ride. He knew it wasn't a good idea. He was a middle-aged man, known in the community. He should have offered to call someone for her. He should have done a lot of things. But then she said she knew his son, and so he let her in.

Cal is a sad and confused man in the thrilling novel "A Tap on the Window" by Linwood Barclay. Just two months ago, his teen son committed suicide while high on Ecstasy. A former police officer turned private investigator, Cal is determined to find the answers. He wants to know who sold him the drugs and what exactly happened that fateful night. The local police haven't been much help as they're embroiled in their own scandal of unnecessary violence.

So Cal works his cases and in his spare time interviews kids about the last activities of his son. When rain-soaked and pleading Claire Sanders asks to get in his car and says she knows about his son, Scott, he lets her in.

That one step puts him in the middle of Crazyville when Claire winds up missing and her best friend is found murdered. Cal is determined to help the girls' parents and devotes himself to solving the case. Which becomes another case and then takes yet another turn.

In the process, we meet a menagerie of interesting townsfolk. As in the best thrillers, there are a number of red herrings and twists along the way.

Barclay is a well-known suspense writer and for good reason. The story drew me in immediately. The characters are drawn with great detail, displaying multi-faceted personalities. The villains are still real people, with good parts and intelligent thoughts as well as evil.

And the story does cut to the heart. Even small-town America has its share of problems. Even the best parents lose control sometimes. And when someone means well, it doesn't mean it turns out that way.

In "Just What Kind of Mother Are You?" by Paula Daly, we meet Lisa Kallisto. While renting a drafty old house in the Lake District in England, Lisa is very busy. With a taxi-driver husband and three children, the family struggles to stay afloat. Lisa is one harried mom.

While the kids are at school, she works as a director of an animal rescue and adoption service and tries to fit in with the posh social network. I loved one scene when a Lexus-driving woman in fancy clothes and jewels comes in to the rescue and wants to sell her pedigreed dog at a discount. When Lisa explains that they take in unwanted and abandoned pets, the woman is outraged that they won't pay her a few hundred for her puppy.

So Lisa gently turns the woman away and goes about her usual tasks of cleaning up messes, making meals, running errands and trying to be the kind of mom that her friend Kate is. Kate has control. She knows where everyone is supposed to be at the right times and makes sure they're there carrying homemade treats and wearing their best smiles.

Poor Lisa just feels like she's in a fog most of the time. This becomes tantamount when one morning she comes to the realization that Kate's daughter was supposed to come for a sleepover the night before. Now she's missing, and Lisa knows that she is the one to blame.

While falling apart with worry and guilt, Lisa doesn't know that Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall is suspicious of other things — and people. Something is just not right in Kate's family life. Her husband, Guy, goes missing for hours on end on a semi-regular basis. The daughter has been abducted, and their son seems to be sick a lot. They live in a beautiful large home and seem to have it all. Until they don't.

DC Aspinall is determined to trust her instincts and get to the bottom of the mystery. She would like nothing better than to arrest Guy, but is he really the guilty party? Or just a victim of circumstance?

This is a debut novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the characters. I can see both DC Joanne Aspinall and busy mom Lisa appearing in future stories — and would welcome it!

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

Topics (1):Books

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