Vanished

Vanished_JosephFinder_6346436

A MARVELOUSLY CONVOLUTED THRILLER

5 STARS

This first entry in Finder’s Nick Heller series is as impressive in what it is not as in what it is. To begin with, this mystery is not a romantic suspense. There is no female counterpart to our male protagonist, no girlfriend or male partner in the background, not a single sex scene, not even a kiss. Next, while the setting for most of the action is Washington, DC and its Maryland suburbs, the story is about corporate espionage, not political intrigue. And finally, our protagonist has a lot of personal baggage stemming from his childhood, but he is OK with that. He does not allow it to make him morose or brooding and he does not use it as either a crutch or a club. How refreshing and non-formulaic!

Nick Heller is an international private investigator with a background in Special Forces and the DoD intelligence network. He is employed by Stoddard Associates, a DC investigative services firm specializing in “find it and fix it” scenarios. And as the story opens, Nick is in LA investigating the overnight theft of an entire planeload of cargo for a new and sudden client of his firm. Within an hour of arriving at the airfreight terminal, Nick has found the stolen cargo, concealed in a manner that is as intriguing as it is ingenious. Coupling the nature of the heist with the unusual manner in which his boss accepted the job, Nick decides to break open one of the sealed containers to see just what kind of cargo merited such deviousness. And just as he suspects, the cargo is a very special form of contraband.

Simultaneously with Nick’s investigation in LA, Nick’s sister-in-law, Lauren Heller, is coming out of a coma caused by blunt force trauma during an attack the night before. Lauren’s husband, Roger Heller, had forgotten his keys at the restaurant where they had dinner and started back for them, leaving Lauren by their car. He hears a sound, turns back, and sees Lauren in the grips of a large man. The last thing Lauren hears before everything goes black is Roger asking “Why her?” When Lauren awakes in the hospital, Roger has disappeared, presumably kidnapped, his rumpled image and that of a man with a gun captured by a nearby ATM camera. But before Lauren regains consciousness, Gabe, her teenage son by a previous marriage, calls Nick. Putting his suspicions about the LA job temporarily on hold, Nick heads back to DC to help in the hunt for his brother.

Two kidnappings, one of a load of cargo and the other of Nick’s brother, set up one of the better researched and graphically realistic thrillers in my recent reading history. Before this one is finished, the plot will move past being convoluted to the point of making the reader wonder if anyone other than Nick is a good guy. Just as one of your suspicions seems to be confirmed or denied, two more take its place and a previous choice will be found to be wrong. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on why everything is happening, Finder twists you in the wind with a new piece of evidence or a new physical encounter.

In the end, two old saws, trite and overused as they are, were my last thoughts as I finished the last page: “Money is the root of all evil,” and “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Cover Art from Goodreads

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