Dolan has crafted an extraordinary novel that delves beneath the placid surface of Rome, New York, to reveal a series of heinous crimes. On a rainy night in April, David Malone meets Jana Fletcher on a deserted road. His impending marriage sidetracked by a fiancé’s bad judgment, David’s encounter with Jana changes everything, a mysterious young woman with a bruise on her cheek and secrets he ignores until it is too late.
A prime suspect in Jana’s murder, David endures the questions of a stubborn detective before setting out to learn the truth. Literally reconstructing what he knows of Jana’s past from the scarcest of clues, David doggedly persists, eventually unraveling a macabre tale that even he finds unbelievable. Throughout the complicated series of encounters and exchanges—from the present to Jana’s experiences before she meets Malone—Dolan maintains perfect control of characters and events, from Jana’s first encounter with Malone to a meeting with her mother at the funeral, from Jana’s determination to go to New York and pursue acting after her grandmother’s death to a random meeting with a handsome if dangerous stranger and Jana’s certainty that she is being watched, even with David sleeping by her side.
Beyond Jana and David, the other characters are equally well-developed. Personal struggles add depth to an unfolding plot that exposes the dark side of human nature, from David’s ex-fiancé Sophie, who worries for his safety, to Jana’s lifelong friend; from a worried professor piloting an innocence project to Gary Dean Pruett, incarcerated for killing his wife but claiming his innocence nonetheless. While at first Malone’s obsession with solving Jana’s murder appears to be that of a young man in love with a stranger, Dolan lifts his plot from the predictable to the deeply creepy, Jana’s experiences emerging through chapters that set the stage for a nightmare that haunts every woman’s secret fears.
Beyond flawless plotting, it is character development that gives this thriller its appeal, one that extends beyond the usual whodunit to consider how random individuals can come together and change the course of lives: the stranger along the road who offers assistance, the wife who suspects trouble but refuses to see, a young man who falls hopelessly in love only to face the tragic loss of that person, a detective’s decision to follow one road of inquiry over another. All the elements are there: a mysterious past, unexplained secrets, seemingly random violence, the watchful eyes of a stalker, the façade of peace in a community where horrors hide out of sight.
While there is no shortage of good mystery writers to enjoy, it is a rare treat to discover one who rises above the norm. Dolan’s tight, precise prose propels a tale that is impossible to put down until the end—and be left wanting more. Dolan orchestrates it all, shifting the layers of personality to reveal where monsters lurk, creating situations that occur when a predator meets prey, capturing the human flaws that plague vulnerable relationships and pitting determination and passion against hubris, a fated reckoning.