Closer Than You Know
I’ve heard good things about Brad Parks’ writing over the past couple of years, and I kept telling myself to pick up one of his books and give him a try. Of course, as almost always happens, other books came across my radar and I never did get around to it. Then his latest standalone thriller, Closer Than You Know, became available for review, and I’m so glad I snapped it up.
Melanie Barrick grew up one step away from disaster. She spent her early years in foster care and while some of her homes were decent, others were close to unbearable, and it often seemed like no one cared enough to investigate the conditions under which she was forced to live.
As an adult, Melanie has worked hard to escape her troubled past. She has a good job, a husband she can’t get enough of, and a cute, healthy baby boy. True, a feeling of impending doom is never far away, but Melanie does her best to ignore it. She’s built a great life for herself, and surely, nothing can go wrong now.
As you’ve probably guessed, something does go terribly wrong for Melanie and her family. She arrives to pick her son up from daycare one evening, only to be told that child protective services has removed him from her care and no matter how many questions she asks, no one will give her any further information. She’s instructed to wait for the police to speak to her and reluctantly, she goes home to wait.
Soon after arriving home, Melanie is arrested. It seems a large amount of cocaine was found in her home, and all fingers point to Melanie as the person who secreted it there. She is hauled off to jail, but she doesn’t have the money for a fancy criminal lawyer to help her through this ordeal, so one is appointed to her.
As days go by, Melanie becomes ever more desperate to learn the truth, not only to save herself, but to reclaim her son as well. The thought of him alone and defenseless in the system breaks her heart, but she knows she has to clear her name before she can hope to be reunited with him. Slowly, and with the help of a few unexpected allies, she begins the arduous process of unraveling the web of secrets and lies that’s been woven around her.
The story alternates between Melanie’s point of view and that of Assistant Prosecutor Amy Kaye, the attorney responsible for trying Melanie in court. She’s a dedicated, hard-working woman, not all that different from countless other tough female lawyers who populate the pages of crime fiction. She believes in the justice system, but Melanie’s case isn’t her highest priority. Instead, she’s focused on a cold case involving a serial rapist who has been active for many years. Her superiors are eager for her to turn her back on the rape case in favour of focusing her attention on Melanie – whom the press have nicknamed Coke Mom – but Amy Kaye is reluctant to turn her back on the countless victims who have been affected by the rapist. She has a desperate need to bring the perpetrator to justice, even if it costs her everything she has fought so hard to achieve.
Mr. Parks is a true master of suspense. The plotting isn’t hugely original, but this didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the story. I did see a number of the supposed twists coming, but there were still quite a few things that took me by surprise, and I was completely invested in the story from beginning to end.
The characters are well-drawn, if a bit clichéd. You’ve encountered people like them in other books you’ve read, but, rather than feeling old and tired, they have a very welcome sense of familiarity here and I didn’t get overly caught up in struggling to understand their motivations. I could just allow myself to be swept up in the story. Sometimes, especially when life is busy and stressful, that’s just what one needs.
If you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers, Closer Than You Know will be right up your alley. It starts off with a bang and doesn’t ease up until the very end of the story; it’s a bit of a wild ride, but one I’m glad I took. Mr. Parks has earned a place on my list of comfort read authors and I definitely plan to check out his back list. After all, one can’t have enough deftly-plotted, action-packed mysteries.