Written by Sheryl Browne — Just outside Worcester, in the relative peace of rural England, Daniel Conner owns a canal boatyard. Or rather he did. He’s selling the business and is waiting for the contract to be finalised. He desperately needs to move on with his wife and daughter. The youngest member of their family has died in an accident, and her silent, dead presence casts a shadow of guilt on the living. Wife Jo finds it hard to cope with Daniel’s iciness over the death, while teenage Kayla is fed up with the constant tension between her parents.
A short bus ride away from the boatyard is what Kayla perceives to be freedom. The town. Bright lights. People. Romance. And Strobes nightspot. Strobes, where 15-year-old girls are using their push-up bras and teetering heels to get past the door staff, whose collective IQ might reach double figures. Once the girls are through the door, they are fair game for the likes of Charlie Roberts, and his lumbering mate Steve. Roberts is a manipulative lowlife drug dealer, who abuses women, but he owes a fortune to one of his suppliers.
When Roberts hits on Kayla and feeds her drugs, she reveals that her father may become richer to the tune of nearly £1 million. Roberts seizes on the opportunity. Using the insensible Kayla as a pass-key, and with a sawn-off shotgun under his arm, he takes the family prisoner and threatens Daniel with dire consequences if he doesn’t turn over the proceeds of the boatyard sale. Roberts commandeers a canal boat, and for the Conner family, the nightmare begins.
Charlie Roberts is a suitably disgusting individual, and aside of his criminal tendencies, his moronic treatment of girls rings only too true, sadly. However, he is no Max Cady, and spends far too long posturing and snarling out threats. Without giving too much away, he’s be a more convincing villain if he did something brutal a bit earlier in the narrative. The police officer DI Short seems credible, but his appearances are too brief. The coppers on bicycles pursuing fugitives along the canal towpath would have great comic potential used in another context, but it jars slightly with the desperate plight of the hostages.
These criticisms aside, this book has plenty going for it. The strengths are in the beautifully drawn characters of the Conner family. Kayla is note perfect as the hormonal teenager growing up too fast for her parents’ comfort, and her own good. Joanne is convincing – feisty but vulnerable, a mother torn with grief, and unable to keep hold of the threads of her marriage. Daniel starts out as the strong-but-silent type, but Browne cleverly picks away at his outer shell until his real fragility is revealed.
The death of a child will hang over any family, fictional or real, and there was a touch of Don’t Look Now as little Emma’s death is the shadow that just won’t go away. Again, Browne subtly feeds us hints about Emma’s death, and it isn’t until quite late in the story that we learn the facts. This is a story which won’t appeal to fans of noir, or those who like a high body count. It is well on the romantic spectrum of crime fiction, but it is none the worse for it, and is an entertaining read.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars