The Barnes & Noble Review
Ridley Pearson is a thriller writer with a bite. His novels, from Probable Cause to Beyond Recognition, carry the requisite killers, victims, smart cops, bad cops, forensic investigations, and other police procedural hallmarks to ensure a major readership, but what he also brings to the genre is a powerful talent for writing suspenseful scenes, in rapid-fire succession. I've been hooked on his stuff since Under Currents, and not one of his novels has been disappointing to me.
The Pied Piper is simply drawn, and yet I was completely entangled in its story line. Pearson is truly a master at work as he details the ins and outs of police work on a crime scene and sets up the mystery at the center of this delightfully entertaining thriller.
And yeah, it is a roller coaster, make no mistake. Hang on for dear life and just go with the suspense. It rarely gets better than this.
The setting is Seattle, and a woman is edgy as she and her husband board a special dinner train as a way of celebrating their anniversary. It's the first time she's left her two young children behind, and she feels trapped on the train, unable to check on their babysitter. When she finally calls from the train, there's no answer.
What a neighbor has already discovered is the babysitter knocked out cold on the floor, and the children gone. In the baby's crib is a small plastic flute. This is the hallmark of the Pied Piper, a kidnapper or ring of kidnappers who take children.
Before the parents even have a chance to leave their train, the police and detectives are swarmingoverthe small suburban home. Pearson fans will enjoy seeing the entrance of Lieutenant Lou Boldt as he joins his colleagues at the scene of the crime to try and piece together what happened and possibly find out why. Soon, his partner-in-investigations, forensic psychologist Daphne Matthews, joins him. Other faces familiar to Pearson fans also emerge, but Lou and Daphne definitely take over. Immediately they go to work to learn anything they can from possible witnesses. This is not the first kidnapping for the Pied Piper. Whoever has committed these acts has been terrifying communities for six months, and with diabolical brilliance. The FBI and police itself have been used by the Pied Piper, and their fumblings only served to allow this kidnapper to continue on his deadly course.
Daphne and Lou must work together to track the Pied Piper before another child is taken. And when another child is taken, it is too close to home for Lou Boldt.
This is a fast-paced psychological thriller that has blockbuster written all over it. Ridley Pearson has a real knack for keeping the action going through the various layers of his plot, and while some of the action might be predictable, it is never slow-going, and always fascinating. Lou Boldt and Daphne Matthews are wonderful detectives to follow as they and we find out more about the Pied Piper and the fate of the children he snatches.
For those who love masterful suspense and high-octane thrills, The Pied Piperis up there with the best of Ridley Pearson. Recommended.
Read an Excerpt
The train left the station headed for nowhere, its destination also its point of embarkation, its purpose not to transport its passengers, but to feed them.
By early March, western Washington neared the end of the rinse cycle, a nearly perpetual curtain of ocean rain that blanketed the region for the winter months, unleashing in its wake a promise of summer. Dark, saturated clouds hung low on the eastern horizon. Well to the west, where the sun retreated in a violent display, a glimpse of blue cracked the marbled gray, as welcome to the residents of Seattle as any sight alive.
Arrival at the dinner train surprised Doris Shotz. She had thought her husband Paul was taking her to Ivar's, one of Seattle's more popular fish-house chains. A simple dinner date had presented her with a test of sorts, being that it was her first evening leaving her four-month-old baby girl, Rhonda, with a sitter. She'd finally decided she could handle an hour or two a few blocks away from home. But an entire evening stuck on a train in the woods was unimaginable, unthinkable!
"Surprised?" he asked, displaying the tickets proudly.
On the verge of total panic, Doris reminded herself that Julie was an experienced sitter, having taken care of Henry for the last year, as responsible a fifteen-year-old as one could ask for. Better to give Paul his moment than to start a fight.
They'd been talking about the dinner train for years. And Doris had to concede that over the last nine months, Paul had been a saint. She owed him.
"I can't believe it!" she said truthfully.
"I know. You didn't guess, did you?"
"Not for an instant. I promise: It's a complete surprise."
"Good." He reached down and took her hand and squeezed. She felt flushed. She wanted to be home with the kids.
"All aboard," he said.
The train lurched. Doris Shotz shifted to avoid spilling the cheap champagne that Paul had ordered. Although she didn't want to drink while nursing, she knew Paul would consider it an act of defiance to say no to any part of the celebration, and given that she had already gone this far to please her husband, she wasn't going to let one glass of champagne ruin the evening. When the train turned east, the frosted mountains flooded crimson with the sunset, Paul said with obvious satisfaction, "This is a long way from the backside of a computer."
Paul repaired PCs for Micro System Workshop, a name his employer had invented because it could be reduced to MS Workshop, and in an area dominated by Microsoft those two initials meant dollars. Paul drove a blue MS Workshop van around the city, crisis to crisis, fire to fire: hard drives, networks, IRQ ports -- Doris had heard all the buzzwords enough times to think she might be capable of a repair or two herself.
Paul provided for them adequately. He loved her in his own way. She loved him too, though differently than she once had. Now the children absorbed most of her time and much of her love, too. She wasn't sure exactly how to categorize her love for Paul; she simply knew that she would always be at his side, would attempt to put up with his moods. But the truth was that she lived for her children, Rhonda and Henry. She had never before known such a complete feeling. It warmed her just thinking about it.
She politely refused a refill of champagne as she watched her husband's cheeks redden behind the alcohol's effects. Clearly carried away with happiness and the light buzz that came from the champagne, he talked at her, but she didn't hear. Boys and trains, she thought.
"Do you think I should call home?" she asked him.
She motioned to the rear of the train car. "There's a pay phone. Cellular. I could call them."
"You know how much those things cost? Fifteen minutes, Doro," he pointed out, checking his Casio and saying sarcastically, "we've been gone a whole fifteen minutes!" He leaned closer and she could smell the sweet alcohol on his breath, a smell that reminded her of the occasional drunken violence that Paul had sometimes brought with him to their bed. "They're fine. Julie's perfectly capable."
"You're right," she said, offering him a fragile smile. He nodded and stared out the window. She felt sick with anxiety.
It occurred to her that in a few minutes she could excuse herself to go to the bathroom and use the phone. Paul would probably never know. The champagne bottle's white plastic cork rolled noisily at his feet. The train clattered past condominiums that reminded her of a Monopoly board. A few of the couples had dressed for the occasion, though most wore jeans and sweatshirts. It wasn't exactly the Orient Express.
It soon became clear that Paul's romance was with the train rather than her. Flushed cheeks pressed to the glass, his right foot tapping quickly as it always did when he drank in excess, her husband disappeared into the alcohol and she retreated into thoughts about her children.
Ten minutes passed with minimal conversation. Doris excused herself and made the call home. It rang and rang, but there was no answer.
Wrong number, she decided. At those prices -- $3.95 for the first minute, $.99 each portion of a minute thereafter -- Paul was certain to catch the charge on the credit card bill. But so what? She pressed NEW CALL. She redialed, again suffering under the weight of its endless ringing. She could envision Julie busy with a diaper, or in the middle of feeding. It didn't necessarily mean trouble....
A fire, she thought. Paul's home entertainment center -- a sports center was more like it -- crowded the outlets with far too many wires. What would Julie do in a fire?
The knot in her stomach twisted more tightly. Her fingers went cold and numb. Julie might be in the bathroom. Nothing more than that.
But her imagination wouldn't let it go. Perhaps Julie had a boyfriend with her in the house. In that case, she wouldn't be paying attention to either the kids or the phone. Doris stole a look around the corner and down the shifting train car's center aisle to the back of her husband's head. She had already been gone a few minutes, and it would ruin everything if he caught her at the pay phone. She had promised him she would wait to call until after dinner.
She hung up the receiver, deciding to slip into the washroom and then try again when she came out. But she emerged only to find someone else using the phone, ironically a mother happily talking to her children.
When the woman hung up, Doris tried again. This time the phone's endless ringing seemed a kind of punishment for trying at all. She glanced up the aisle at Paul, but now all she could think about was that there was something terrible going on. She decided to call her neighbor Tina, who answered on the second ring.
Doris concentrated on removing any panic from her voice. "Tina, it's Doris. I have a really weird favor to ask of you...."
In her mother's heart she knew: Something was dreadfully wrong.