Tsara (short for Tsarina) Abrams Adelman hasn’t spoken to her uncle, Castle Thornlocke, in twenty years. But when he invites her to a benefit for a cancer charity founded in her mother’s name, her affectionate husband David, her brother Court (apparently the family has a penchant for royal names), and her rabbi and close friend Adara persuade her to put the past aside and attend.
At first, Tsara has a marvelous time, enjoying the luxurious surroundings and getting to know her aunt and cousins. But at night, a pair of men, Mike Westbrooke and his cousin Jim Montrose, break into her room and kidnap her, claiming that her uncle is holding Mike’s six-year-old son Aiden hostage, along with some of his friends whose parents owe Thornlocke money.
Mike is desperate to get Aiden back, but the local cops, Jordan and Arnold Stone, are bullies and thugs, in Thornlocke’s pay, and an integral part of his kidnapping scheme, so he has no place to turn. He hopes to trade Tsara for his son, and takes her out into the wilderness to hide while his cousin acts as intermediary for ransom negotiations with Thornlocke.
Tsara is, naturally, scared to death, but she’s a fighter at her core and she’s determined to survive. Can she make it back to her husband and family in one piece? And can she cope with the emotional ramifications, not only of being kidnapped, but of discovering that the loved uncle of her childhood is a kidnapper and an extortionist?
This is a book that manages to include fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping action, thoughtful ponderings about morality, and a witty sense of humor all in one novel, an impressive feat. The main characters, with the possible exception of the out-and-out villains (Thornlocke and his co-conspirators), are (mostly) reasonable people drawn to desperate actions by difficult circumstances, and it is easy to empathize with and understand them, even when their actions are clearly wrong.
The kidnapping and subsequent events are seen from multiple points of view, so the reader feels not only Tsara’s rage and fear, but Mike’s conflicted state, David and Court’s worried wait for news, and the determined focus of the FBI agents on the case. The situation allows for a good bit of intelligent moral debate without tedium (Rabbi Adara’s counsel being particularly thought-provoking, naturally), and Tsara’s reactions to her ordeal feel real, human, and believable.
The author’s wry humor pervades the novel, adding substantially to its entertainment value. There is no way this reviewer, personally, could dislike any book that describes the protagonist’s first child thusly: “He came out goopy and screaming like a Ringwraith, but after the initial shock they loved him anyway.” The resolution is touching to the point of tears, and thankfully, it is honest, well-written emotion and not overdone sentiment.
The book’s main flaw, which does not, however, detract much from the story, is the improbability of the initial kidnapping scheme that starts it all. It is difficult to believe that even a wealthy man with the local police in his pocket could expect to get away with holding people’s children hostage for unpaid loans for long, especially when so many people know of it. Still, if you can suspend your disbelief that far, the rest of the novel follows reasonably naturally from that point.
This is a book that can be dramatically suspenseful, heartrendingly emotional, and laugh-out-loud funny all at once. It’s well worth a read.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader