When recent widow Alyssa Austin enters her upscale Twin Cities home late one night, she immediately senses something amiss. Armed with a loaded handgun, Austin goes room to room, switching on lights. She discovers no intruder but is horrified to see the blood-soaked wallpaper that suggests a violent crime has recently been committed. Ironically, there is no body.
Assuming the victim is Alyssa’s daughter, Frances, the police hesitate in declaring a homicide without a corpse. As days pass with no new clues, a frantic mother requests the help of her friend Weather’s husband, Lucas Davenport, a seasoned detective (and familiar protagonist in Sandford’s “Prey” series of mysteries).
Lucas agrees to expend his considerable skills solving the girl’s disappearance. Unfortunately, the facts may support the worst-case scenario, Frances almost certainly dead, her Goth friends on Lucas’ short list for immediate interviews. Splitting his time between the Austin case and a long-term surveillance of a violent career criminal’s wife, the man still at large, Davenport pieces together the sparse fragments of Frances Austin’s affairs.
The CEO of a fitness empire, Alyssa Austin does her best to contribute whatever data Lucas needs, providing him with her daughter’s financial records. At best, Frances’ disappearance is murky, disparate facts causing Davenport a great deal of confusion, especially when three Goths who frequent the late-night club scene are brutally murdered, the Goths perhaps the strongest link to Frances’s recent activities.
Witnesses describe a “fairy” on the scene just prior to the killings, a dark-haired exotic female Goth. Delving into the counterculture, Lucas is faced with also tracking this enigmatic sprite who reeks of menace. To further complicate Lucas’ life, the simultaneous investigation is coming to a head, the criminal husband about to reappear and visit his wife. Davenport and his fellow detectives anxiously await this arrest, keeping close watch on the wife’s apartment.
The plot accelerates, moving from Lucas’s surveillance-related activities to the ongoing anguish of Alyssa Austin, victim of an increasingly tortured imagination as she struggles to accept the probable death of her daughter. Even when distracted by the imminent arrest of the long-sought criminal, Lucas is focused on the Austin case, an elusive fragment of evidence just at the edge of consciousness. A vague alarm sounds as he sorts through the sparse clues, his intuition proving reliable as ever.
After years of entertaining Lucas Davenport mysteries, certainly Sanford can be forgiven for a less-than-stellar novel, mixing it up with modern-day counterculture for a new twist. Danger still exerts a siren call on the family man who cannot resist a challenging case, his skills undiminished by time and experience. This novel may not keep you on the edge of your seat but provides its share of surprises, Sandford a consistent author with an endless supply of stories.