Keeping Watch

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Overview

Acclaimed as one of the most original talents to emerge in the last decade, award-winning author Laurie R. King returns to Folly Island to deliver her most stunning achievement yet--a breathtaking novel of suspense that explores the very essence of good and evil.

Allen Carmichael came back from Vietnam a lifetime ago--but only now was he ready to return home. For years, he’s lived on the fringes of the law, using a soldier’s skills to keep watch over those too young to defend ...

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Keeping Watch

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Overview

Acclaimed as one of the most original talents to emerge in the last decade, award-winning author Laurie R. King returns to Folly Island to deliver her most stunning achievement yet--a breathtaking novel of suspense that explores the very essence of good and evil.

Allen Carmichael came back from Vietnam a lifetime ago--but only now was he ready to return home. For years, he’s lived on the fringes of the law, using a soldier’s skills to keep watch over those too young to defend themselves. Some consider him nothing but a kidnapper for hire--the best in the business; others call him a hero. His specialty has been rescuing children from abusive parents and escorting them to loving homes. But after twenty-five years, he is ready to take on his final case--a case that could destroy him.

The boy’s name is Jamie: He believes his father is going to kill him. Allen is convinced that the twelve-year-old is right and devises a strategy to save him. His last job done, Allen heads back to Folly Island, where he plans to settle into a quiet life. But not long after his return, a small plane piloted by the boy’s father’s crashes, leaving behind debris--but no body. Now it is up to Allen to resolve whether Jamie’s father is dead or alive--and to make sure Jamie himself stays out of harm’s way. But a series of ominous events leads Allen to question whether Jamie’s father is really the enemy after all. Or if the real threat is far more unspeakable...and the killer unimaginable.

Riveting, harrowing, and unforgettable, Keeping Watch takes psychological suspense to its most dizzying heights and proves again why Laurie R. King has been called by both readers and critics an undisputed master of suspense.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Vietnam vet Alan Carmichael makes his living rescuing kids. Now, on the verge of retirement, he accepts one more job, agreeing to kidnap a teenager from an abusive father. The stealthy interception is successful; or so Camichael thinks until the erring parent disappears under suspicious circumstances. Another triumph for Edgar, Anthony, and Creasey Award winner Laurie R. King.
From the Publisher
Raves for Laurie R. King

“One of the most original talents to emerge in the ’90s.”
--Kirkus Reviews

“King always writes well, and her stories sweep along with an inexorable force that comes from a power greater than mere skillful plotting.”
--The Boston Globe

“King is an original and skilled writing talent.”
--The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“King has deservedly received the Edgar and Creasey Awards for her thoughtful, intelligent, innovative, imaginative mysteries.”
--Booklist

From the Hardcover edition.

The Washington Post
This book does not belong to either one of King's popular series. Freed from the need to reprise characters or familiar situations, she has written a book that will stay with readers for a long time. This is encouraging to lovers of the genre. Ever since Harlan Coben broke out spectacularly onto the bestseller lists with his fine stand-alone novels, there has been a stampede among mystery authors to venture outside their series in hopes of duplicating his success. Departing from her routine, King has pushed herself and taken chances to write a book that has real heart. — Katy Munger
The New York Times
Victimized women and children have always had a champion in Laurie R. King, whose mysteries featuring a San Francisco cop named Kate Martinelli read like a social worker's casebooks on domestic abuse. The same crusading instincts for social justice inform King's stand-alone suspense novel, Keeping Watch, but the operational tactics of the protagonist would surely give Kate heart failure. Calling himself ''a civilian mercenary in the service of abused children and their mothers,'' Allen Carmichael essentially kidnaps these kids, delivering them up to a network of agents who spirit them to safety through a modern-day underground railroad. Allen is ready to retire when his final rescue, of a very bright but cruelly mistreated 12-year-old boy named Jamie O'Connell, backfires and endangers them both. King is a careful plotter and a meticulous character builder; but in her zeal to flesh out Allen and his young charge, she burdens them with so much back story that the mind reels — and the eyes close. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Versatile and prolific, King not only finds time for two successful mystery series but also manages to produce the occasional stand-alone gem. Fans will discover that this gripping tale shares certain locations and characters with Folly (2001), but her hero and subject are unique to this novel. At its simplest, this is the story of a man who helps rescue women and/or children from dangerously abusive men. King's lengthy, brilliantly executed backstory of Allen Carmichael's experiences in Vietnam, his disastrously unhappy return home and his eventual discovery of his "calling" showcase some of her finest writing. Now in his early 50s, Allen is ready to retire from his dangerous vocation, to settle on his remote island and perhaps serve as a consultant to those who continue the struggle. But his last rescue, that of a 12-year-old boy trapped in a horrible situation, continues to haunt him. And when reports reach him that loose ends from that case may be unraveling, he's compelled to check it out since his actions may have endangered others. King captures perfectly the contradictions of combat: the exhilaration and the horror, the isolation and the camaraderie. The niche Allen eventually finds, the one that allows him to function more or less successfully, offers almost the same mix of extreme emotions. This novel of harrowing suspense and wrenching resolution should earn King plenty of accolades. (Mar. 4) Forecast: National print advertising in the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review, plus sponsorship announcements on public radio, should help ensure a run on genre bestseller lists.
Library Journal
An intensely suspenseful look at different forms of emotional strain and physical abuse, this work revolves around Allen Carmichael, who enlisted in the army and was promptly shipped off to Vietnam, where he discovered a distinct talent for repressing his emotions in order to cope with the harsh reality of war. Now middle-aged, Allen lives at the edge of the law, dedicating himself to using his hard-earned skills to rescue abused children. His latest case has just ended successfully, and Allen vows it is his last. However, young Jamie O'Connell has sent out a cry for help, and Allen is drawn to the boy in spite of himself. As always, King (O Jerusalem: A Mary Russell Novel) delivers a masterpiece of human drama, cleverly mixing extended flashback sequences with a present-day narrative. She evokes the remote islands of the Pacific Northwest as smoothly as the humid, war-torn jungles of Vietnam. Powerful and exceptionally well written, this is essential. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/02.]-Laurel Bliss, Yale Arts Lib., New Haven, CT Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A gripping, intricately plotted psychological thriller, full of subtle twists. Allen Carmichael (a minor character from King’s Folly, 2001) works outside the law as a "kidnapper," abducting abused children and, with the help of an underground network run by an enigmatic woman named Alice, placing them with complicit foster families. Just as you’re absorbing this scenario, the story flashes back to Allen’s harrowing tenure in Vietnam. During his yearlong hitch, he witnesses the brutal killing or maiming of all his buddies. After discharge, there’s a period of homelessness, a failed marriage, and a series of unsuccessful jobs before he finds salvation helping at-risk kids. He also reunites with brother Jerry (a sheriff) and builds a romantic relationship with a sea-loving woman named Rae (a central figure in Folly), aboard her boat, the Orca Queen. On the brink of retirement, Allen is drawn into one last case, a sensitive and dangerous one. Twelve-year-old Jamie O’Connell, a computer fanatic, suffers physical and emotional torture at the hands of his charismatic father Mark, a high-powered southern California entrepreneur. Jamie’s early years were studded with tragedy: the suicide of his mother, the drowning of a friend, a raging fire at his school. He escapes to the Internet, where his handle is Deadboy. Allen abducts Jamie with nary a hitch, taking him to Montana and the farm of Peter and Rachel Johnson. Jamie’s progress with the Johnsons is slow but steady, and Allen, meanwhile, digs into Jamie’s early years and Mark’s elusive business: and uncovers myriad disturbing facts that force him to postpone his retirement and return to Montana—before it’s too late. The gritty Vietnam sectionconstitutes a rewarding novella itself, and King’s shrewd use of it as the seminal period in the hero’s life gives a devastating and surprising spin to a familiar genre. And there’s more: multidimensional characters at every level and complex plotting earn the true application of that overused tag psychological thriller.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553382525
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/3/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 465,838
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurie R. King became the first novelist since Patricia Cornwell to win prizes for Best First Crime Novel on both sides of the Atlantic with the publication of her debut thriller, A Grave Talent. She is the bestselling author of four contemporary novels featuring Kate Martinelli, six Mary Russell mysteries, and the bestselling novels A Darker Place and Folly. She lives in northern California.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Allen Carmichael balanced on the precariously slim branch of the vine maple, pawing aside the soft new greenery and cursing the incompatibility of most trees with the human body. Particularly a six-foot-one-inch human body with a stiff leg, working its way through a sixth decade. Too old for this kind of stunt, he grumbled to himself. No doubt about it: It really was time to turn this side of things over to some younger maniac.

The house over which he was keeping watch–or rather, which his machines had been watching for him–lay slightly lower than his current treetop perch and at the other end of half a mile of well-maintained driveway. It was a solid house, big, with double-glazed windows and a lot of fake stone wrapped around a confusing number of rooms and a three-car garage. The sort of house Allen disliked, even without the things that went on inside it. Showy, unsuited to the climate, “Tudoresque” (whatever the hell that meant), and with no personality to show for its vast expense. It was also irritatingly well situated for defense. With good reason, Allen knew, but it made life no easier for a man trying to pry it open.

He downloaded the information stored in the treetop receiver, gave it a new battery, and paused to check the area around the tree for onlookers. He was grateful, always, when his targets were not dog owners. Remarkably few of them were–for the simple reason, he’d always supposed, that dogs demanded a kind of affection they had no time for. Their interests lay elsewhere.

He clambered down through the unfurling April leaves, reaching the ground without breaking any of his middle-aged bones, and set off for the motorcycle buried in some bushes half a mile away. The surveillance on AmberLyn’s stepfather was nearly finished; time to break up the party.

Late that night, back in his barely furnished residential-hotel apartment, Allen Carmichael dropped his pack on the kitchen table and got himself a beer. Half of it went down his throat before he bothered to shut the door on the fridge.

He set the bottle down next to the pack and shrugged off the leather biker’s jacket he wore, taking it to the apartment’s single closet, where he winced at the smell of cat piss that wafted out. He worked one of the flimsy hangers into the coat’s shoulders, hung the heavy garment up gingerly on the chipped paint of the metal bar, and closed the door, then remembered the smell and left the door ajar a few inches so his clothes wouldn’t be quite so pungent in the morning. Sitting on the end of the wobbly mattress, he picked open the laces of his scuffed steel-toed boots, placing them precisely under the corner of the bed, then unbuttoned the grubby, paper-thin flannel shirt he wore and tugged it free from his jeans. He pushed the garment into the dresser drawer that he used in lieu of a dirty-clothes hamper (unconsciously adjusting the ill-fitting drawer so it lay precisely flush to the frame), then scratched his grease-rimed fingernails through his scalp, loosing hair matted by the day’s headgear of knit cap and helmet, before stretching hard in an attempt to rid his body of the day’s tiredness. The attempt was not a success.

He walked out of the bedroom, limping slightly, dressed in stocking feet, jeans, and the spotless army-green T-shirt he had worn beneath the plaid flannel. In the apartment’s tiny bathroom (which was still pretty grim even though he’d got down on his hands and knees the day he moved in and scoured every surface) Allen ran the rust-stained basin full of cold water, splashed and dried his face. He used the toilet, then went back to the basin, using hot water and soap this time to scrub his hands, his bearded face, and the back of his neck. He’d rather have taken a shower, to rid himself of the indescribably oily feeling of his day, but he knew he’d really need one later and he couldn’t permit himself to have two showers in one evening–a little compulsiveness was okay, but let’s not let it get out of hand. So he washed his face and hands, and when every inch of exposed skin was clean and glowing, he arranged the thin, damp towel foursquare on the peeling chrome of the bar and switched off the light.

At no point had he looked into the dim mirror over the basin.

In the kitchen again, Allen frowned at the contents of the refrigerator, glanced over the meager supply of pasta and canned goods in the cupboard, and in the end fried up a pair of thick ham and provolone sandwiches with tomatoes and onions on week-old bread. He carried his plate with the remains of the beer into the cramped living room and propped his feet up on the massive pseudo-wood table in front of the musty sofa, allowing the greasy food and the mindless television to carry him through to the half-hour break.

With a sigh, and another beer, he then sat down to his work.

In the arc of experience that had brought him from a scorching runway in Saigon to this fetid apartment among the winos, Allen had picked up a number of skills. Primary among them, then and now, was the ability to disengage. Going through the pockets of a long-dead enemy soldier, dropping down to check a bunker they’d thought was empty but which a fragmentation grenade had proved was not, watching a brutal interrogation, loading a ville’s weeping inhabitants into a Chinook like cattle–you had to stand aside mentally and let your hands and eyes do their job. Like a flak jacket on the emotions, disassociation made it possible to carry on even if you were hit.

Now, it made it possible for Allen to watch his illicit videos of blond, curly-headed, six-year-old AmberLyn McKenzie with the least possible involvement of the mind. If he stopped to let it all in, if he allowed his eyes to dwell on the child’s face or let his ears hear her stepfather’s clever cajoling, he knew damn well that he’d put down his beer and just go murder the bastard. Which wouldn’t help anyone, least of all that little girl whimpering on the television screen. Instead, he fast-forwarded parts of what the bedroom spy camera had recorded, although truth to tell, it was rarely the actual rape that got to him on these sorts of cases. No; the part he found truly unbearable was, he’d long ago decided, the very same part that the pedophile loved the most: the seduction. Most pedophiles weren’t interested in merely overpowering a child, but rather found their greatest pleasure in the game of domination, keeping the child just this side of outright panic by first discovering and then manipulating each particular victim’s individual needs, fears, and nobilities. The subtle interplay of threat and cajoling, pressure and affection, always hit Allen the hardest: the terrible intimacy involved, a predator’s complete understanding of his prey, a knowledge such as, more often than not, no other human being in the child’s life came anywhere near to possessing. It was this terrible familiarity with the victim’s very soul that made Allen crave the simplicity of murder.

When the bedroom tape was over, he got himself a third beer by way of reward before settling down with a pad of paper to watch the scenes from the three other cameras he’d planted. He made the occasional note and replayed one or two parts before labeling the recordings precisely and sealing them into a padded mailer; only then did he go and take his shower. Afterward, he sat in the dark room for nearly an hour with his feet on the table and his fingers laced together over the front of his fresh T-shirt.

Thank God this time there was a mother. It made life so much easier, having an adult to take charge of the child once he’d gotten the victims free–even if the mother was a large part of the child’s problem, which was usually the case. But at least Allen didn’t have to act alone, at least he avoided the soul-withering need to ingratiate himself into the child’s life like the molesters he watched. He always felt . . . cleaner, when there was a mother on board.

A few minutes after midnight, Allen got up to fetch a cell phone from his bedside table. He thumbed in the numbers and put it to his ear, standing at the bedroom window and looking through its dirty glass at the deserted street below. As he’d expected, the phone was answered after the first ring. He spoke. “Tomorrow, I think. He’ll be out of town until late. So plan A looks good. Everything ready at your end? Fine, see you then.”

He closed the phone and climbed between the clean-smelling sheets, where he slept the sleep of a middle-aged adrenaline junkie on the eve of action, whose only dreams were cool and green and quiet as April leaves.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2005

    A MUST READ

    This was without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read. It was the first one by this author and I have already gone out and bought two more of her books. The descriptions of Viet Nam are so vivid that you feel like you can hear the noise and smell the scents. There were times that I cried, but this is such an inspiring book. You feel the pain of the abused children and the Viet Nam soldiers. It will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Go out now and buy it!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    great psychological suspense inside a taut action thriller

    He was in his first year of college when the patriotic spirit moved Allen Carmichael to enlist in the army, knowing that he would send time in Viet Nam. While serving in Nam, he saw and did things to people that made him doubt his own humanity. When he left service Allen suffered flashbacks leading to staying alone and homeless for fear what he would to anyone who got close to him. After seven years, he finally gets his act together. For the next twenty-six years he has rescued (or kidnapped, depending on your point of view) children in abusive situations. Allen is proud of the fact that fifty-two children are alive because of his intervention but now he plans to retire and make a life with his lover Rae. He¿s asked to go out on one more assignment and he reluctantly agrees to snatch Jamie O¿Connell, from his sadistic father. This is his last case but it turns out to be very dangerous because nobody knew that Jamie¿s father takes his violence out on anybody who gets in his way. The hero saw and committed a lot of atrocities during the Viet Nam war and has spent the rest of his life seeking redemption. To achieve this impossible salvation, Allen saves children even if it means stepping outside the law to accomplish his deed. KEEPING WATCH is a masterpiece of psychological suspense wrapped inside a taut action thriller. Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2013

    Folley

    God bless our troops and familes

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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