This is the first of Schmitt’s Afton Tangler thrillers I have read, but it won’t be the last. In Little Girl Gone, Tangler,
a divorced mother of two daughters, is working for the Minneapolis Police Department as a liaison officer with an eye
toward becoming a detective. When a three-month-old baby girl is kidnapped by three strangers invading a home and assaulting the babysitter of the affluent new parents, Afton is assigned to serve as liaison for the duration of the investigation.
The crime scene yields few clues for anxious detectives all too aware of the limited time frame in saving the child.
The teenaged babysitter recalls little of her ordeal, the assault and kidnapping quick and efficient. It doesn’t help that Minnesota is in the grip of a series of escalating storms, the police department short of manpower. Afton finds herself more than just a liaison, accompanying seasoned detective Max Montgomery as he conducts interviews and pursues leads, no matter how insignificant they seem, an unexpected opportunity to experience the demands of a serious case from Max’s perspective. Meanwhile the public demands a swift resolution, pressure building on an already overtaxed police department.
The plot is rich in atmosphere and character variety, from the parents to the detectives to the kidnappers and the warped world they inhabit. Though the identity of the culprits remains a mystery almost until the end, the new mother, Susan Darden, is experiencing a near-hysterical reaction to the loss of her child, barely able to function as her well-connected husband makes phone calls to men in high places, further complicating matters as the FBI joins forces with the MPD and any other agencies that can offer assistance. The kidnappers remain relatively secure in the midst of the frantic search for the infant, while an ambitious news reporter appears at every phase of the investigation, the blinding light of her helicopter illuminating each scene with images and sensational commentary for her viewers.
Schmitt keeps the plot tight, her “monsters” carefully insulated from the ongoing quest to find the child.
The distraught parents grow more difficult as time goes on, a once-perfect marriage showing the cracks of unrelenting stress. There are two worlds in play: the intense investigation to recover the baby in time and the inner workings of a criminal enterprise hiding in plain sight, a glaring contrast between the lives we take for granted and the chasm that opens up when tragedy strikes. This two-pronged scenario works well, Afton Tangler working above her pay grade but completely committed as she meets home-grown criminals head-on in the middle of an epic snowstorm with no help in sight. The storm-tossed Minnesota winter is the perfect setting for an infamous kidnapping, an unexpected initiation into detective work for a formidable protagonist at the start of a promising career.