Gardiner’s novel possesses both positive and negative qualities—mostly in the plus column, but with sufficient stretches to cause some skepticism in the synchronicity of events. Still, Gardiner jumps right in with the action and never lets up until the final resolution when the random violence, close encounters and confrontations end in a dramatic, albeit inevitable standoff. It begins with a violent standoff in the small northern California community of Ransom River, where two gun-toting masked men take an entire courtroom hostage.
Returning to Ransom River after two years overseas working with a charitable project, Rory Mackenzie is on the jury of a volatile murder case in which two Ransom River police officers stand accused of murdering an intruder in cold blood. The victim’s father, Grigor Mirkovic, a powerful man with links to organized crime, watches from the gallery, eventually walking out of the proceedings. Soon after, the gunmen enter. Chosen along with four others to leave the room when instructed, Rory is caught in the crossfire of an abduction gone wrong. When the smoke clears, both gunmen are dead, the hostages handcuffed and vigorously interrogated by suspicious detectives.
Rory finds herself accused of complicity in the attack, detectives working to indict her as a conspirator in a plot yet to be made clear. But as more characters and situations are introduced, the violent, tragic escapade is only the tip of the iceberg in a plot that goes back twenty years in Ransom River history. Rory and her extended family are integral to what is rapidly escalating into a nightmare she has yet to understand, one born of greed, betrayal, long-standing resentments and family betrayal.
Rory’s cousins Neressa and Boone become primary players in the drama, as does her old lover and former childhood best friend, Seth Colder. Some issues have never been resolved between Rory and Colder, a former Ransom River detective. He left town soon after Rory, who was struggling through a painful recovery from an accident. Now Seth has returned, and much as Rory resists accepting help from a man with whom she has unfinished business, she soon realizes that whatever is going on is bigger than she can handle alone.
Revisiting the wife of her favorite Uncle Lee, who has been missing the last twenty years, Rory comes face to face with Boone, with whom she has an uncomfortable history of harassment. She is made even more anxious by Nessa’s arrival, whose underserved jealousy and resentments plagued Rory’s childhood in an otherwise happy family: “They were a cheap documentary of hatred and need come to life.” While Rory is warned against any private sleuthing, gangster Mirkovic hovering on the sidelines, she can’t help but believe that her cousins are deeply involved with the violence that has taken place since her return to Ransom River. The plot is darker and deeper than Rory imagines, a crime that goes back twenty years to a barely remembered incident, one steeped in long-entrenched family secrets that bloom into the violence that directly threatens Rory and Seth.
Except for the elements that strain credibility, Gardiner writes an engaging thriller dripping with venom and malice, almost enough to overcome the rougher plot points of greed, corruption and family dysfunction.