"Here and Gone" (Crown), by Haylen Beck
The vulnerability of a family — in this case a woman and her two children escaping an abusive home — is at the center of Haylen Beck's "Here and Gone," a tension-laden, sometimes disturbing story with a viselike grip that won't let go.
Audra Kinney separated from her violent, wealthy husband about 18 months ago. With a custody battle now looming, she's fleeing her New York home for California with her two children, Sean, 10, and Louise, 6. On a remote Arizona road, she is stopped by Sheriff Ronald Whiteside for what seems like a bogus traffic infraction. Whiteside arrests her after he claims to have found a small amount of marijuana in the trunk of her car. Deputy Mary Collins is called to take the children to "a safe place."
At the jail, Audra demands to know where her children are, but the sheriff insists there were no children in the car. Missing children bring out the FBI, state police and media — all of whom want to know what Audra did with her children.
No one believes her tale except Danny Lee, a former Tong member, who watches the news in San Francisco. Five years earlier, Danny's wife, Mya, was stopped on a lonely road. She claimed their daughter was taken by a police officer. No one, including Danny, believed Mya, who later committed suicide.
"Here and Gone" is terrifyingly realistic from the start to its finale. No aspect of the plot feels false, pulling in themes of parenting, greed and desperation. Each character emerges as multidimensional. Audra hasn't been the best mother, with drinking and drug problems in her past, but she's been clean for the past few years and she's devastated that her children may be gone forever.
Danny has overcome his criminal past, but he isn't above using violence. Even the children are shown as real, thinking people, not merely props in a kidnapping scheme.
Haylen Beck is the pen name of Irish crime writer Stuart Neville, who won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his Belfast detective series. Beck is the name he will be using for the novels he will set in the United States.
The author's new writing direction is off to a solid start with "Here and Gone."