What Doesn't Kill Her
Carla Norton
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Buy *What Doesn't Kill Her* by Carla Nortononline

What Doesn't Kill Her
Carla Norton
Minotaur Books
320 pages
June 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Though the plot eventually strains credibility, the unfolding drama is so well executed that reservations become easier to tolerate, at least temporarily, in the nightmare of a psychopath returning to claim a victim. Reggie Le Claire, kidnapped at twelve by Daryl Wayne Flint and held captive for three years, escapes only by virtue of an automobile accident when she is being transported. Now twenty-three, Reggie has changed her name to Reeve and is attending UC Berkeley in Northern California, her home state of Washington left behind with its troubled history. Her kidnapper has avoided incarceration in prison thanks to the efforts of psychiatrist Dr. Terrance Moody, who has built his professional reputation on the treatment of such damaged individuals. Flint is currently held in the forensics unit of Olshaker Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, where he has just been transferred--courtesy of Moody’s legal intervention--to a medium-security ward.

Needless to say, Flint has been cleverly exaggerating his symptoms, acting out his diagnosis until his caretakers cease to notice his bizarre behavior, joining in line for the services of a visiting barber on site for the day, where he allows his bushy beard to be trimmed away. Thanks to outside assistance, Flint gleefully escapes notice after murdering the barber and stealing his clothes, ID, and vehicle. Daryl eludes capture in spite of a huge effort by law enforcement to stop him. Unseen, Daryl Wayne heads to Moody’s home, commits another murder, and disappears, changing his identity and location, his actions modeling his mentor and partner since childhood, Walter Wertz. As events evolve and Reeve is cornered on campus by eager reporters and cameras, she begins to worry that her life will once again be hijacked by the trauma she had left behind.

Reeve reluctantly contacts authorities, convinced that she might have insight into Flint’s behavior that will assist in his capture, only to be rebuffed. Finally, she reconnects with the agent assigned to her case, Milo Bender, now retired. The former agent and victim agrees that Reeve’s theory has merit, likely to be an asset in the search. In spite of painful memories, Reeve immerses herself in the crime scene and visits Flint’s room at the hospital, concerned that Flint is still fixated on his “little cricket.” Indeed, as Flint returns to the place where he first saw twelve-year-old Reggie, he yearns to finish the artwork he had only begun, an intricate design carved on the back of her neck with the delicate cuts of his knife.

No ordinary pedophile, Daryl Wayne Flint has a long history with Wertz. The two have created elaborate plans for long-term success. This is a devious, twisted mind, a man who has spent years waiting for an opportunity to escape confinement and continue his reign of terror. Flint’s evil mother is equally vile, unable to hide the malice that lurks just below the surface, her son a reflection of her paucity of morality. Former agent Milo Bender, still obsessed with the case, is now eager to work with Reeve to put Flint back where he belongs. The good guy is admirable, the bad guy a horror, but survival falls to Reeve, who refuses to relinquish her freedom again. There are discrepancies in the plot, to be sure: Why did Reeve only change her first name? What were the sexual connotations of her abduction?

While the storyline is Flint’s quest to recapture his victim and Reeve’s refusal to be taken again--with all the terrifying incidents that lead to the final denouement--Norton has written a cautionary tale for young women growing up in the digital age, when distraction too often breeds opportunity for pedophiles like Flint and Wertz. The message is clear, Daryl Wayne Flint, that monster in Reeve’s nightmares, is the face of the wily psychopath, capable of changing disguises and vehicles, his fetid breath and yellow teeth hallmarks of his presence, especially to one who has encountered him before. Flint and his partner Wertz are just two of many, predators who lurk in the shadows, unseen and patiently waiting for the next unwitting girl to come along. Norton adds just enough scare to make a memorable point.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2015

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