Title: The Girl Who Disappeared Twice
Author: Andrea Kane
If this were a movie, it would be a bit of a mash-up of Mission Impossible with Bad Boys. In what seems to be the opening salvo of a series, a high-tech trio consisting of the standard ex-SEAL (Marc Devereaux), a standard geek (Ryan McKay), and a standard woman-with-issues covering the 'standard hit-all-interest-groups spectrum' (but they missed Latinos and native Americans) got together and formed 'Forensic Instinct' (FI) based in Manhattan, to run down bad guys. I have to ask: why are they always referred to as Navy SEALs? Are there other SEALs - that is, of the human military variety - form whom we must distinguish these guys?! Surely no one would imagine that this detective agency hired aquatic mammals?! If they did, what would it mean to be an ex-seal: it's now a sea-lion? A sea otter?!
The novel starts out looking like it might be good, but quickly sheds that impression: Casey Woods (trope name alert, but since she almost shares a last name with me, I guess I have to let her get away with it, huh?!) the troubled head of FI, is portraying herself as a shy college girl in order to trap the rapist/serial killer, which she successfully does with Devereaux taking him down, breaking his arm, and forcing a confession. But they are working for NYPD, so it’s all okay, I guess.
Having taken care of business, Woods doesn’t go home to bed, she goes into the office and sits watching the news coverage of the guy being led out of the alley in handcuffs. Just a moment please! Casey left immediately after they had the confession from the perp (not that such a confession would hold up in court, but corroborating evidence might). No police were on the scene at that time, yet as soon as she gets back to HQ, Devereaux is already there. Meanwhile, she's watching the Fox news channel (and that might account for the inaccuracies!) and they show news footage of the perp being led out of the alley in cuffs. Here's my problem: did the NYPD hold the perp in the alley, waiting until all the news teams had assembled at four in the morning so once more the dawning could bring out the rapist in cuffs? In the full glare of news camera lights? That's neither rationally possible nor even credible.
We learn that their conference room is controlled by an AI which can detect who is in the room and even that Woods has an elevated heart rate. It can understand commands and even ask questions to refine the commands it's been given. So why are they not selling this AI technology and making a fortune? Why do they rely on hefty fees from their poor clients to make a go of their operation? Another problem.
We'll see how it goes. After Woods finally gets to sleep for the whole day, she's woken up by a call in the late afternoon (evidently FI can't afford to hire office staff!) from a judge whose five-year old daughter has been abducted from daycare by someone using a gas-guzzling piece of environmental destruction which looks exactly like the one the judge herself uses. It even passes the judge on her way there with her kid banging frantically on the window and the judge doesn't even register it. She immediately calls in FI to help her find her child because she has zero faith in the local police or the FBI. How's that working out for you, judge?
It turns out that the judge also has issues. Not only has her kid been kidnapped, but her twin sister was also kidnapped when they were both six years old - about the age of her daughter now.
So, let’s see - twin sister kidnapped, then years later, daughter kidnapped at the same age, perhaps by someone who looks so much like her mom, driving the same kind of vehicle, that the little girl doesn’t even suspect a thing until it's too late (I got that part right!)? Surely it can't be this easy to solve this "mystery" can it? But then I'm usually wrong with these guesses of mine, so perhaps we’re safe!
Woods & Co dive in and start questioning parents, witnesses, and potential suspects, including the nanny, who has a rather wayward boyfriend, but neither he nor she seem to be guilty of anything. Judge Willis's fired secretary and her wayward boyfriend seem clean, too. Willis's husband, Edward, is having an affair with the nanny. Willis's mom is three sheets to the wind in a nursing home, and a retired FBI guy who worked on the original twin sister kidnapping, Patrick Lynch, tracks down Hope's father, which is how we learn that the mob was involved in the kidnapping of Hope's twin, Felicity. The story is that she was killed, but I think the reason Kane is so desperately tossing out so many red herrings is to distract us from this twin.>/p>
I had a wild idea that Edward might have met the twin, now grown up, and decided he preferred her to Hope, and have entered into an arrangement with her: have the twin kidnap the child posing as Hope, have Edward stage a "rescue" but instead of taking Krissy home, take her to a new home he had set up, and present the twin as her real mom. But that's probably not what happened. I am, at this point, still holding out for the twin being involved somehow. Unless Kane deliberately put that out there as a huge red herring.
What does happen is that Hope gets a call ostensibly from the kidnappers, demanding $250,000, which she puts together from safety deposit boxes and a slush fund her husband has (he's a defense layer so you know he's as crooked as a dog's hind leg. Hope is supposed to head to a mall, drop the duffel bag into a specific trash can, and then pick up her daughter an hour later. The caller does know some details about Krissy, but I seriously hope our judges are not this monumentally stupid or so blindly trusting. Hope tells no one but Ashley. Woods, however, knows something is up.
She follows Hope to the ransom drop, but get this: she notifies not one single person - not on her team, and not on the police or FBI teams, and the quarter million predictably disappears, and of course there is no Krissy. Right now I feel like I'm going to finish this novel, but it's definitely going to get a warty on this showing - and it's not just this.
The kidnapper again sneaks into the Willis residence - during of the very few times when hardly anyone is home, so the residence is under surveillance and not one of these law-enforcement types has noticed. The kidnapper has a key to the house, and lets herself in the back door. She goes up the back stairs and she takes a toy from Krissy's room, and some perfume and a heart locket containing a picture of Krissy and a picture of Krissy's mom from Hope's room. She leaves without being detected, but has to clock Ashley on the head to knock her out when she's in danger of being discovered.
Meanwhile the law-enforcement teams are obsessing on the mob connection which was inadvertently triggered by Woods's team's pursuit of a possible connection between the three-decade ago kidnapping of Hope's twin sister and the current events. The assumption I'm currently operating under is still that the kidnapper is Hope's twin sister, but there's now a twist. What if the kidnap victim wasn't Hope's sister Felicity, but Hope herself? When Felicity saw Hope had been kidnapped, she assumed Hope's position, and insisted that it was Hope who had been kidnapped, and Felicity has been impersonating Hope ever since? Yeah, warped, but that very warping is what's fueling the current events.
Yeah, it;s weird, but until we get more clues instead of endless red herrings out of this novel, this is all I have that makes any sense to me. And it's probably wrong! But we have nothing going on in the story. I'm over half-way through it and there are no real leads. It's actually boring right now with this mob-connection crap, and this Claire psychic woman is dragging the story down for me. She divines that Felicity won a 'most goals scored' award over her nearest rival by two goals - and she divines this from a photo of the twins! She has a dream about Krissy's toy panda missing a friend, and this pans out when the kidnapper returns to steal a second toy. After that, Claire is called in, and she 'senses the energy' in the room where Ashley was knocked out, and Claire comes out with the most abusive genderism babbling on about the energy in the room: "It's a female's energy - not dense or heavy like a man's would be. More light and airy." Excuse me?!
Le stupide kicks up to an even higher notch next. Woods has a boyfriend in law enforcement and one day he brings her a pet bloodhound, which has been retired from law enforcement duty. Woods employs this dog pointlessly in sniffing around the entire neighborhood in case Krissy was hidden in one of the homes nearby, but when someone comes directly to her office building and sticks a letter in the door advising her to look closely at the family, and the dog wants to follow the scent, Woods unaccountably, inexplicably fails to let it chase the scent of this person who quite clearly has valuable information!
The useless clairvoyant has a vision that Krissy is fine, but Hope is stressed. On the basis of this, and this alone, they decide to tell "Hope" that Krissy is fine. I'm going to start putting "Hope" in quotes now because these last two revelations have convinced me (rightly or wrongly!) that my idea that "Hope" is really Felicity and the real "Hope" was the abducted child is right. Woods - the one who is supposed to have super-instincts - blindly assumes this letter refers to the Vizzini crime family they're investigating, not the Willis family. Her boyfriend, Hutch shows up very shortly after the letter does - which some might consider suspicious! She shows him the letter and they don't consider for a minute that it refers to the crime family unless it means "Hope"'s father, who has connections to the crime family!
After they've dispatched the letter that Woods failed to follow up on to the FBI crime lab, she and Hutch, despite being pissed off with each other for holding back secrets about the case (which Hutch actually hasn't been doing but which Woods has) have their usual sex which is described so briefly that it need not be described at all. Just rest assured that it was on a plain which mere mortals can not ever so much as hope to dream of. Their sexual tension began the moment they met, and it's only become more intense since! Hutch grips the headboard and drives "...himself all the way inside her - and then some"! What the hell does that mean?! Where he's been driving prior to this isn't detailed. Finally it erupts "...in an explosion of nearly painful pleasure." Oookay!
Clearly this is one of those "romantic" relationships where sex is everything and there is nothing whatsoever beyond that, yet the relationship is supposed to be the best there is! Even as they both agree that this relationship is a one-in-a-lifetime thing, they neither of them ever even remotely look like they're going to discuss marriage! Some relationship! And be warned, you'll need a barf-bag for the next chapter.
So Woods relates to Hutch a tale of a college roommate who had told Woods that she felt like she was being followed, and reported it to the police but nevertheless was found raped and murdered shortly thereafter. So she's been in this supposedly intense relationship with Hutch, and she's never told him this? Woods claims that this is what drove her to form Forensic Instincts, but she fails to address how she thinks a college student might even begin to afford the high fee that FI charges for its services. This "back-story" is so predictably mundane that it's a joke. Then Woods bitches out Hutch because she had an epic fail when she suspected that "Hope" was up to something with her ransom payment and never told anyone, even though she had ample opportunity to do so. She justifies this fail because she has these instincts and has to act on them! She's evidently arguing that she doesn't have the time to do it right and catch an extortionist.
So Devereaux the bully hits on another suspect threatening violence on him until the guy finally 'fesses to the fact that he left the note at FI's HQ. Why he didn't write that he saw "Judge Willis" go home on the day of Krissy's kidnapping when Ashley was out getting the mail, and before Krissy was kidnapped (presumably the impostor was picking up the panda toy) instead of simply writing "Look closer at the family" is another weak spot in this novel. Later, Devereaux dresses up as a janitor to break into a psychiatrist's office to look at confidential medical papers for a nurse, Linda Turner, who lost a daughter who was in the same soccer camp as Felicity Ackerman.
That Felicity girl sure as hell gets around and does an amazing amount for a six year old, doesn't she? But here's the risible part: Devereaux wants to avoid anyone paying any attention to him so instead of going up the elevator with his janitor cart, he carries it up the stairs! Seriously? This is the man of whom we're told that he's a sexy hunk who draws women like a magnet, and yet he's carrying a janitor cart up the stairs, and two women pass him on the way down, and they don't even pay any attention to him! This is the same guy who had a secretary at one of the Vizzini's building sites all over him when he posed as a Xerox technician so they could substitute the existing Xerox machine with one which sends a copy of the image to McKay so he can see everything they copy.
A standard Xerox machine for typical office use costs around $6,000. Who paid for that? Judge Willis? Casey Woods? Out of what budget? Again how does Woods's organization pull down enough cash to be this extravagant? How do they finance the geek's robot building? McKay has a robot called Gecko which they're sending into the air-ducts in the psychiatrist's building just for a test run, as Devereaux breaks in there. The really bizarre thing here is that, "knowing" that Woods's team has broken into a health-care provider's office and copied medical records, they don't even blink an eye, and they take this new information and run with it, focusing their search on Turner now instead of the mob where they've been wasting time for days.
So now they've tracked down Turner's home, but it's empty; she's apparently disappeared without a trace, so Woods's best plan is to take Claire the Voyant there to see what vibes she can pick up! The whole freaking crew goes over there, bloodhound and all. McKay is the only one who doesn't because he's off charming records out of nurses or someone. Kane would have us believe that medical personnel are such lowlifes that a hunky guy can get them to compromise their integrity and patient confidentiality? That's quite a power.
But this actually turns up the interesting revelation that Felicity Ackerman - who supposedly broke her arm - was never admitted to an ER with it. Instead, the girl who was admitted at that time with those symptoms was called Anna Turner! So yes, this is fascinating, but it reveals another weakness in this story: that in the extensive search for Felicity Ackerman, not a single law-enforcement officer ever discovered that someone had switched names for the girl with the broken arm? Or it had never occurred to anyone that maybe it was Anna Turner who was the truth and Felicity Ackerman who was the fiction?
Claire the Voyant declares that Krissy was never held in Turner's house, but Felicity Ackerman was. The search of the residence turns up a single pill of an Alzheimer's drug called Memantine, which is a real drug. In a tiny percentage of cases this drug can cause confusion, so while Woods & Co leap to the conclusion that this was a med Turner was taking, I'm wondering if it was a med Turner was administering to her victims. 10 milligrams seems to me like it might be a bit high for a six-year old, but then I'm not a medical practitioner! More to the point, I'm also wondering if Linda Turner is actually Felicity (or Hope!) Ackerman.
After Devereaux breaks into the Sunny Gardens nursing home and confirms that Turner is there under the name of Lorna Werner, McKay plants video surveillance, and puts his 'Gecko' robot into the grounds where Turner sits when she's brought outside. She is expecting a visitor - her daughter - and when that visitor shows up, they will record the visit in audio and video and thereby track down Krissy. These morons once again fail to inform law enforcement of the fact that they know where Turner is and have a lead on tracking down Krissy. So now not only are they threatening Krissy's welfare, they're also officially obstructing officers of the law.
Before the daughter shows up, a construction crane situates itself between the surveillance van and the Gecko, meaning that they can't receive the transmission directly from the Gecko because of interference. The simple solution is to move the freaking surveillance van, but instead, these morons give up on the whole thing, deciding to simply have the Gecko record what happens so they can review it later! Once again they're putting Krissy's life at risk, and even more-so because instead of having McKay go in and pick it up posing as a workman (as he did to place the device to being with), they inexplicably wait until dark and send Devereaux in to get it! They don't even think for a split second of discovering who it is who's visiting Turner and following that person after she leaves! These people are stark-staring imbeciles, and if I were not within 50 or so pages of the end, I'd quit reading this right now.
But it gets worse! Recall that the Gecko is a device which can walk - McKay had it walk down the air-ducts into the psychiatrist's office earlier, but when it comes to retrieving it from the grounds of Sunny Gardens, McKay apparently can't have it walk to the fence for Devereaux to grab it: he has to get into the grounds and go find it up himself. Why?!!
Back at FI HQ, once they have the Gecko plugged into a specially designed connector (what, a USB port not good enough for simple video and audio streaming?!) it comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that the person visiting Turner is "Hope". They show the video to the FBI and it's agreed that they will stake out the Sunny Gardens nursing home the next day, which they do, but Felicity detects that she's literally surrounded by the feds, so she conks a nurse on the head and steals her outfit and car, and escapes, triggering a huge woman-hunt which involves Felicity taking a train. They track down where she disembarked and and eventually find her house, but Felicity has beaten them there. She grabs Krissy and starts to head out the door, but Krissy breaks free and escapes into the woods, where the bloodhound naturally tracks her down. Krissy is free and Felicity can get treatment. The end.
If this novel is so painfully obvious that even I can get it in the first few pages, it really sucks. I'd hoped for so much better than that, but even that, I could have withstood if the characters had been realistic instead of cardboard cut-outs, and if the plot hadn't been so full of holes and Le Stupide!