Brad Denning is a man carrying a heavy sense of sorrowful guilt around with him. As a young boy going off with friends to play baseball, he was followed by his little brother, Petey, who idolized him and wanted to be with him. At the insistence of his friends, Brad shooed his little brother away:
“I still remember the hurt look he gave me before he got on his bike and pedaled away, a skinny little kid with a brush cut, glasses, braces on his teeth, and freckles, wearing a droopy T-shirt, baggy jeans, and sneakers—the last I saw of him.”
In leaving his bigger brother, Petey rode his bike into a fog of disappearance. He was gone from that moment on, vanished. And Brad blames himself for the loss of his little brother.
Brad is now a successful architect, designing homes for the wealthy. He is happily married to Kate and has a son of his own. And he still feels guilty about his lost brother. One day, after making a television appearance, he is approached on the street by a stranger who calls his name, “Brad!” It’s his brother, Petey, returned after a quarter-century of being missing. Brad is, naturally enough, suspicious of the young man with the chipped tooth standing before him, flashing a winning smile. A con man, he thinks. This can’t be my brother.
But the young man knows too many things only his brother could know. Brad is convinced and invites the long-lost Petey into his home. He is told how was kidnapped on his way home from the ballgame that long-ago day, and of how he was virtually held prisoner for many years. Brad’s sense of guilt is heightened by the horrific history his younger brother reveals to him. He wants desperately to make it up to him.
Petey becomes good friends with Brad's son, Jason, who immediately bonds with this friendly “Uncle Pete” who has shown up in his life. After a time, the three, Brad, Jason and Uncle Pete go on a camping trip. Kate decides to stay home.
Here a new horror begins. While Brad is standing on the edge of a precipice, enjoying the scenery, he is rammed in the back and pushed over the edge. He is meant to fall to his death but, with a bit of fortune, survives the fall, although he is seriously injured. His screams for help to Petey are drowned out by the roar of the rapids of the river below. With some great effort, he climbs back up to the camp. There he finds Petey and Jason gone. So are the car and the tent and all the camp equipment. Now, alone, injured, soaking wet, and in the forest, he is in danger of freezing to death as the sun goes down. Slowly the truth occurs to him. It was Petey who pushed him over the edge, Petey who took his son (and, as he learns later, his wife), Petey who wants Brad’s life and family as payment for the life Brad, in his youthful act of scorning his younger brother, took from him.
Here the author is at a crossroads. Given this start (a very good one), Morrell might have done a psychological study of the injuries we inflict upon each other, of the conflicts between love and anger, especially to those closest to us. But there is little true soul-searching here. Morrell chooses instead to give us a pure thriller. In the time it takes to scan a chapter or two, Brad Denning is transformed into a kind of architectural Rambo. He will hunt down his brother himself (as the police have given up on finding the kidnapper) and he will either save his wife and son, if they’re still alive, or avenge their deaths if they are not.
All sympathy the reader might have for Petey is lost as Morrell abandons any further attempt to analyze the personality of the man. Petey is now simply a character of almost pure evil, the enemy that Brad must hunt down and, most likely, kill. And that is fine, although it could prove disappointing to those readers who might have liked to have a more nuanced novel and may have expected that, given the nature of the first few chapters. But for those readers who like pure thrills and action presented in a fast-paced, must-read, can’t-put-the-book-down, manner, this novel is for you. It will keep you on the edge of your seat until you read the final inevitable showdown between brothers who now both have reason to hate each other.