Following the murders of her two best friends on the same date—January 21st—a year apart, by a process of elimination Charlene Rosalind Carter Grant assumes that she will be the victim of the next homicide. Leaving New Hampshire and her identity behind, Charlie seeks anonymity in Boston, preparing mentally and physically for the confrontation she is sure will come. Surveilling top detective DD Warren and eventually sharing her shocking announcement, Charlie hopes to give one of Boston’s best an edge in finding her assassin. At the same time, a number of pedophiles have been targeted for death in the city, Warren faced with solving those crimes while simultaneously preventing Charlie’s death.
Gardner constructs an interesting thriller counterbalancing the two issues, part a harrowing history of ritualistic child abuse, part police procedural in the apprehension of a murderer, and part unfolding drama of a young woman’s appointment with fate. Salted with disturbing information regarding the technological adaptation of online pedophiles in grooming their victims, the effects of long-term domestic violence on innocent children and Charlie’s experiences as a 911 operator, new mother DD Warren has her hands full, Charlie never far from her thoughts as January 21st approaches.
Writing from two perspectives (Charlie’s and DD’s), Gardner is able to explore the ugly realities of child abuse, a young woman’s present haunted by a violent past as well as the daily demands on a dedicated law enforcement professional . In the few years after her removal from her mentally-impaired mother’s care, Charlie is able to reinvent herself in New Hampshire with her aunt as legal guardian, forming friendships and experiencing a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, it is the same two friends that have been brutally murdered, their deaths and the date etched in Charlie’s mind as what she believes his her last day approaches.
While DD’s home life, new baby, visit by parents and relationship with the baby’s father help give context to her life, the real meat is in DD’s application to her work. The detective is clearly dedicated to her job, confidant in her own abilities and the resources of her team, especially grateful for the assistance of a woman from Sex Crimes who adds another element to the scope of the investigation of the pedophile murders and Charlie’s situation. It is here that Gardner displays her strengths as mystery a writer: in the nuts and bolts of the chase, the collection of facts, and the instincts that separate a good investigator from a natural.
The mystery takes on the symmetry of the pedophile killings and the evolution of Charlie’s potential murder, the killer drawing nearer to the victim, the detectives assembling damning facts that suggest a more sinister scenario than first imagined. Think it’s predictable? Not to worry. With DD barely in control and Charlie near the end of her nightmare, Gardner turns expectations inside out before true evil is exposed to the light of day.