According to the cover blurbs, this novel is innovative, exciting, a page-turning thriller. But the actual story is thoughtful, subdued, based more on the psychological struggle of a father to come to terms with the disappearance of his twelve-year-old daughter, Caitlin, and her astonishing reappearance four years later.
Just after Abby, Tom Stuartís estranged wife, organizes a memorial service complete with dated headstone, Tom learns of a possible witness sighting of Caitlin, one with the ominous overtones of a girl who doesnít try to escape her captor. This scenario is repulsive to a man obsessed with the experiences his daughter may have endured since her kidnapping. When Caitlin is located soon after the witness report, she refuses to share the details of her ordeal with her parents or the police.
Caitlinís disappearance has put the final nail in the coffin of Abby and Tomís marriage, Tom refusing to give up hope, Abby turning to her church and her smarmy pastor to deal with the trauma. Though they try to reunite after Caitlin returns, the clearly-fractured relationship has a temporary respite at best, the parents at odds whether with police advice or mutual agreement on how to handle Caitlinís readjustment. Their feud continuesóblame, recriminations unabatedóas Caitlin turns a blind eye to her parentsí ineffective attempts to ameliorate the damage of the past four years, yearning only for another opportunity to be with her abductor, whom she loves.
Much has been written about the phenomenon, a Stockholm syndrome situation in which the victim identifies with her victimizer and becomes attached to him. But Bell expends most of the energy of the novel exploring Tomís obsession with finding answers and satisfying his curiosityóeven to the point of meeting with the man who stole Caitlinís innocence form her. Bell throws in some family dynamics from Tomís childhood to further complicate the plotline and introduce another pivotal characteróTomís half-brother, Busteróbut this ploy only serves to distract from the story, as does the meddling Pastor Chris, who steals a passive Abby from her husband with missionary zeal.
Bell constantly hints of factsówhat the police know, what other persons of interest might contribute, what past connections Buster is hidingóbut Tom remains ignorant about the various agendas of others, blindly groping toward some resolution of past and present in his fruitless quest to find peace with the truth of Caitlinís experience. This is Tomís story more than Caitlinís, who becomes merely an accessory to Stuartís unfolding life drama.
While there are chapters that offer some interesting insights into the aftermath of such a heinous crime, the novel is frustrating as often as it is entertaining, both parentsí selfishness rendering them unsympathetic, the head-in-the-clouds-and-praise-the-Lord-Abby and the driven, single-minded Tom just as lost after Caitlin returns home in a universe that renders blows without prejudice.