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DARK RIDE by Lou Berney: Book Review

Calling Dark Ride a thriller is an understatement.  It’s a novel that’s so tense, so taut, that I was finding it difficult to turn the pages, fearful of what would happen next.

The book starts out calmly enough.  The protagonist is Hardy Reed, although he’s always called by his childhood nickname “Hardly.”  That’s because he’s often hardly anywhere–at college, where he dropped out after three semesters; at his dead end job at a rundown amusement park; in his life, which he’s going through “high” most of the time.

In his semi-stoned state, Hardly goes to the Driver Improvement Verification department to get a thirty day extension on paying his parking ticket.  After accomplishing that, he turns around and is leaving the building when he sees two children sitting on a bench.

Hardly thinks they’re too young to be left alone waiting for an adult to finish whatever business has brought them here, when he notices three perfectly round marks on the girl’s ankle.  For a moment he’s confused, thinking they might be moles or tattoos, but then he realizes they’re too perfectly circular to be either–they’re cigarette burns.  And a second look at the boy shows that he has three identical marks just above the collar of his shirt.

At that moment a woman, whom Hardly thinks must be their mother, walks over to the bench, and then the three of them are out the door.  It all happens so fast that Hardly doesn’t have time to react or talk to the woman.  By the time he gets to the parking lot the car is leaving, and it’s too far away for him to read the license plate.  He returns to the DIV desk and manages to get a look at the sign in sheet, and he sees the name Tracy Shaw a line or two above his name.  That must be the children’s mother, he thinks.

Slacker though he is, Hardly wants to help the children.  He first goes to Child Protective Services, but it’s obvious that the case workers there are overwhelmed and not too interested in finding these anonymous children.  Next he talks to his two friends,  but they are so high on weed and whatever else they can lay their hands on that they’re no help.

After much investigating on his own, he’s able to find out the girl’s name and the school she attends.  He visits her teacher to ask whether he has any concerns about her safety or noticed any signs of abuse.  The teacher admits he had some concerns, but a conference with both parents and the girl allayed his fears.  But wait, Hardly thinks.  The teacher “asked Pearl if she was being abused by her parents while her parents were in the room.  How could he be that clueless?  Even I’m not that clueless.”  So he decides he has to go this alone.

Lou Berney has written a spellbinding thriller, as he had with two of his previous novels I’ve reviewed on this blog, November Road and The Long and Faraway Gone His characters are wonderfully drawn, from the major ones to those who appear in a brief scene.  The plot, as I mentioned, is breathtaking, and you will be swept away as you read.  And the conclusion is one I never expected.

You can read more about the author at this site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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