In what is one of the best reads of the past few years, Ripley delivers a hallucinatory and desperate narrative full of subliminal jump cuts that give the novel an almost dream-like status. For wealthy tech investor Martin Reese, the dream has become a fully-fledged nightmare. Martin spends his days digging from early afternoon to dusk. His wife, Ellen, is putting the heat him to do more to protect their teenage daughter, Kylie. Ellen and Martin have a happy marriage, though Ellen chooses to ignore her pressing anxiety over Tinsley Schultz, her sister who vanished twenty years ago. Next week will be the anniversary of Tinsley’s disappearance. Martin understands Ellen’s emotional intensity days and years after the vanishing.
Martin stores his camping stuff and all the evidence of his digs, turning to the scrapbook, an unspoiled photo record of the digs showing the bones of missing girls. The original files, provided by Sergeant Keith Waring, are part of digitized closed cases, files that have gone untouched for a decade. An obese, dishonest cop, Keith has --for a price--provided Martin over the years with a steady stream of cases.
Everyone in Ripley’s sensational novel is either a manipulator or a spinner. Buoyed by the girls in the ground, remembered now as grainy pictures “on a true crime site” in his efforts to find Tinsley, Martin is a sort of “honorable weirdo knight champion.” He’s spent years “ramping up the pace" of his finds with “cute calls" to the police, including a call about the latest victim, Bella Greene. Martin now has a reputation as an anonymous “finder,” doing something he thinks the police “just don’t have time for.” Starting with Bella Greene’s body and continuing with a forgery of one of Martin’s calls to the cops, Ripley describes a killer who waits in the forest, watching Martin as the slowly defrosting body of Bella lies below the other remains in the ground.
As the killer "Ragman” ponders his next move with Reese, Detectives Sandra Whittal and Chris Gabriel try to link the “finder” with convicted serial killer Jason Sturn, who was sent to prison after a trial and conviction that would end in lethal injection. Martin is haunted by Shurn’s taped voice: “if you want to know where both of them are, you’ll have to ask someone else.” Martin feels the “cool wash of fear around his heart” as the Ragman perfectly manipulates his life from afar.
In beautiful prose style that is sometimes strikingly at odds with his violent subject matter, Ripley builds on a series of circumstances that tie Whittal’s investigation to Martin, the Ragman, and back to Keith, this “complete idiot” whose only worth is in “the goods” he sends to Martin. Sandra knows that the finder is an expert at discovering the dead or missing girls. The question of why he’s doing it is the only thing that matters. All is bathed in blood and gore as Martin’s notebook photographs finally illuminate the extent of the Ragman’s wrath.
Riddled with darkness and violence, Ripley constructs an evocative tale of a madman who spends his whole life preying on unsuspecting victims while recruiting others to do his dirty work for him. In one violent scene after another, Ripley ties the discovery of the girls’ bodies to rain-soaked woods surrounding Seattle. Kylie goes missing on the opening night of Ellen’s new designer clothing store. Whittal’s gut instincts lead her to Martin’s door. She can’t say exactly why she’s curious about Reese. Perhaps it’s his particular tone and the questions he wants to ask but doesn’t. As the plot steamrolls forward, Martin fights for Kylie, searching for clues to the identity of the Ragman that are in danger of vanishing.
Driven by intuition, Whittal is fueled by facts and by an ambition that threatens to destroy her relationship with Gabriel. For his part, Martin proves to be steely, canny schemer as he embarks on a fight to save his captive daughter. Ripley's story careens from one rotten grave to another, soaking us in decomposing flesh while exposing every light and spark that exists far below the surface. Grim reality is sliced off to reveal true depravity, not just for gritty, damaged Martin, but for his embattled family, too.