In the town of Alamogordo, New Mexico, psychologist Kate Medina has been working tirelessly to root out a network of human traffickers tied to the highest and most respectable positions of the local community. While she’s made some headway—assisted by allies including her romantic partner (Detective Roman Aguilar) and her sister (Tilly)—progress has been slow. Kate knows that people like Chief of Police Bill Gunnison are involved, but she can’t prove it. When a potential whistleblower is murdered moments before passing information, and Roman’s former lover and fellow officer Angie Lopez seems somehow off her game, Kate’s frustration and anger threaten to boil over. She’s determined to stop the abuse and assault of young girls by a cadre of evil men, but is stymied at every turn. Then Tilly gets kidnapped, along with a friend’s teen daughter, Hannah. As Tilly struggles to survive her ordeal, Kate senses this is an act of desperation, and soon she acquires evidence that could blow the whole case wide open—if she can figure everything out in time to save Tilly and Hannah.
Amy Rivers writes well, and keeps the tension high in RIPPLE EFFECT as she moves through her story with confidence. She has a real knack for naturalistic dialogue between characters, and you get a good sense of Kate’s weariness and rage. There’s no making light of the threat that women face around the world from angry, horrifying (and largely male) forces, but Rivers makes sure that her characters are neither weak victims nor improbable action heroes; they’re just determined women who know how bad things can get if they don’t stand by each other and do something when faced with evil. There’s a tendency, in the early going, for characters to speak in lecturing info-dumps, dropping acts, and stats about trafficking and sexual assault. This clashes with the skillful dialogue in the rest of the story, as the writing really shines when two or more characters are just hanging out and having a conversation.
The big flaw here is the lack of interesting—or even present—villains. The trafficking group is never fleshed out; we only meet what appear to be low-level members, and they barely register as characters. Of the two apparent ringleaders, one is frail and very easily gives up the fight in order to orchestrate some personal vengeance, which removes all the tension from Kate’s confrontation with them. The other remains off-page for the entire story—as does his final fate, which is a frustrating decision that leaves the story feeling flat. This echoes the way the narrative often gives its characters easy ways out. Kate doesn’t uncover key evidence through clever detective work; it’s handed to her by someone with an ulterior motive. Tilly and Hannah don’t figure out their own escape from their captors; they’re assisted by a surprising ally and the rather dumb decisions of the men holding them. Individually these storytelling decisions can work, but taken together they result in a story that pulls many of its punches. Still, thriller fans will find much to enjoy here, and the story tackles an issue that needs as much sunlight as possible.
Author Amy Rivers excels at creating realistic characters and tense, nail-biting scenarios in her passionate thriller, RIPPLE EFFECT.
~Jeff Somers for IndieReader