Written by Chris Culver — The New York Times bestselling author of the Ash Rashid series of detective mysteries has this time turned his attention to a standalone psychological thriller, set in St Louis.
Nine years ago, crime novelist Steve Hale made a decision that was destined to haunt him for ever. By helping his then girlfriend, Tess, flee the attentions of her abusive and extremely well-connected stepfather, Dominique Girard, Steve set the wheels in motion to send an innocent man to be executed. Girard’s supposed crime? The murder of his stepdaughter. But as Steve, his two closest friends, and the not-actually-dead Tess know, Girard was set up – and eventually paid the ultimate price.
Those nine years have passed, and now Tess is back making crazy demands that the now-married Steve can’t meet. Truth be told, he wants nothing to do with her, but the increasingly deranged Tess has other ideas, and following the gruesome deaths of the family dog and one of Steve’s closest friends (who was in on the original plot), he begins to realise that he has no option but to take her seriously. Suddenly, Steve’s happy family life, burgeoning writing career and reputation are all under threat and he seems powerless to stop the rot.
Nine years ago, Steve was convinced that they were all doing the right thing by helping Tess to disappear but now he’s not so sure. The problem is that the stories she told him nine years ago and those she is telling today simply don’t tally. As he tries to distinguish between the lies and the truth, Steve is more and more convinced that she has killed before and is likely to do it again.
However, Tess has covered her tracks extremely well, and Steve has his work cut out getting anyone in authority to listen to his quite unbelievable story. It gets even worse when Tess’s machinations result in turning the tables on Steve and putting him in the frame for his friend’s murder.
Clever plotting make this a story with enough originality to keep things moving along nicely, but I have to say Steve himself is more than a tad annoying. The scenes where he acts in a family environment are well worked, especially those involving his interactions with young niece Ashley. However, meetings between Tess and Steve seem a little false. Our central character is more Clark Kent than Superman, but there are times when he needs a good old fashioned kick up the backside.
The St Louis setting is great, with Culver’s descriptive passages bringing the place to life. The action ebbs and flows, although the final denouement may leave you disappointed rather than breathless.
Culver’s Detective Ash Rashid novel, The Abbey, spent 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Somehow, I can’t see Nine Years Gone reaching such heady heights, but definitely one to pop into the beach bag for an enjoyable holiday read that won’t tax the deductive skills too much.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars