In Robotham’s sixth outing for the Joseph O’Laughlin series, Joe himself is back as the main narrator (present tense, unfortunately, although Robotham does write it fairly well). Some time has passed since the last book, but much of Joe’s life looks the same: still estranged from his wife (not divorced), but still working with her to raise their two daughters. He has moved back to London, and the book begins with his daughter Charlie coming to stay with him for the weekend.
The other narrator of the story is Piper. Piper was kidnapped three years before Joe’s story begins, and she and her friend Tash have been held in a small basement room ever since. Her story is interspersed between Joe’s chapters, as we learn the back story of how Piper ended up where she is. In Joe’s world, a girl is found dead and is identified as Tash. In Piper’s story, we find out just how this all came to be.
Robotham balances these two narratives perfectly, giving just the right of information from one before switching to the other. While Joe’s story takes up the majority of the book, Piper’s bits are critically important and emotionally devastating. This isn’t a pretty story, as it involves kidnapping, rape, and even some torture, but Robotham handles all of this deftly. We are told enough so that we know what we need to know, but he doesn’t smother the reader in excruciating details.
The tension really ratchets up in this book, and I found myself racing through the pages to find out whether or not Piper survives. My only complaint was that while the clues were there to point to the true criminal, I also found it hard to believe that he had disguised himself so well.
There are always minor quibbles. I’m still aggravated with Joe’s wife, who seems to think that it’s perfectly acceptable to keep Joe stringing along for years instead of just making a final decision as to whether or not she wants a divorce, especially when her reasons for not wanting him to stay with her seem flimsy at best. I really miss the Julianne of the early books – I thought that she added an intriguing dimension to the story. Ah well. On the other hand, I’m really a bit in love with Vincent Ruiz, who reminds me quite a bit of Agatha Christie’s Superintendent Battle. He is definitely my favorite character.
All in all, this has been a very enjoyable series so far. While I’m definitely getting more out of them by reading them in order, they also seem like they would be perfectly readable as stand-alones. I really appreciate Robotham’s ability to tackle some intense subjects without making his stories too bleak – although his willingness to kill off various people means that while I’m fairly certain that Joe himself will survive, I’m still rather worried about everyone else: the tension is real!
4/5 for this outing; recommended.