Chelsea Cain assaults a reader’s psyche from a different perspective in a novel that focuses on someone other than Gretchen Lowell, her female serial killer, and Gretchen’s obsession with the man responsible for her incarceration, Archie Sheridan (Kill You Twice, Heartsick, etc.). While Cain mines the murky depths of a killer’s pathology in those novels, One Kick features Kick Lannigan, a former abducted child who has survived the years of her captivity and its inherent damage, but not without considerable psychological scars and the daily rituals that enable her to function in the world at the age of twenty-one.
Unfortunately for Kick (a play on her real name, Kit, for Katherine), the “Beth movies” (her assigned name) are still among the most widely viewed among Internet pedophiles, a tightly knit network that has never been infiltrated by authorities. In fact, her “father” (kidnapper), Mel, so meticulously trained “Beth” in case of emergency that the child was able to erase critical computer files when the FBI finally rescued her. As might be expected, though she has testified in court and Mel has been incarcerated, Kick still harbors ambiguous feelings for the man with whom she shared such an intimate bond in childhood.
In a fine bit of irony, Kick’s mother, having recovered her missing daughter, has fashioned that notoriety into a media career as an author, public speaker on behalf of missing children, and expert panelist on talk shows. The obsessively-devoted mother has invested considerable time and energy into keeping up her physical appearance and public image, shamelessly exploiting her daughter at every opportunity. Now Kick abhors the sight of her mother, any contact providing further opportunity for media attention, the public always hungry for more.
Kick is approached by an enigmatic stranger during the intensive search for little Adam Rice, a missing boy in the area between Oregon and Washington state. John Bishop requests her assistance in finding the child, certain that the same network is responsible and that Kick’s nascent memories will lead to more revelations once she is in familiar territory. While Kick is reluctant—she doesn’t know this taciturn stranger, who claims he was a former arms dealer with friends in high places—she nevertheless feels compelled to assist in Adam’s recovery, even willing to speak with the incarcerated Mel, who has only a short time to live due to failing health.
Leaving her elderly, blind dog, Monster, in the care of her “brother” James, an agoraphobic nerd with mad computer skills, Kick follows Bishop’s lead, both repulsed and attracted by a man who travels by private plane and is as adept at self-defense techniques as she has trained herself to be, if not more so. Trusting that she has developed the skills to keep herself safe in any circumstances, Kick accompanies Bishop on a quest to find the missing child that includes the emotionally shattering visit to Mel and a search to identify the homes in which she was secreted for months at a time. Though Bishop fears the potential damage to Kick’s fragile adaption to life in the world at large, he intuits her need to regain a sense of personal power.
It is an interesting, even titillating combination: the damaged young woman who has survived the unthinkable and the sophisticated, weirdly attractive man who has the resources to track their devious prey. Kick is both thrown off by his skills and arrogance and attracted to the single-mindedness and determination to succeed in their mission, their ultimate goal to crack the Internet network that feeds on the exploitation of innocents. No loss for Cain, either. The topic allows her to explore the twisted minds of deviants, the brainwashing of their victims and the rationalization of actions that are abhorrent to society.
Violence lies around every corner, not to mention nail-biting confrontations with the monsters at the heart of the story. It is an ugly world, certainly preferable to the one Kick escaped, albeit a protagonist forever tainted by the past. Not to worry, clearly there are more adventures ahead for Kick and Bishop in PedophileWorld in the future.