Right Behind You
Acclaimed author Lisa Gardner has been delivering complex cases and even more complicated personal issues through detectives Pierce Quincy and Lorraine "Rainie" Conner for nearly two decades. Beginning in 1998 with THE PERFECT HUSBAND and continuing into this year’s RIGHT BEHIND YOU, fans have avidly followed the superior sleuthing and romantic relationship of Gardner’s popular creations, known both for their amazing abilities and traumatic pasts. In this latest installment, Quincy and Rainie are faced with an explosive case that hits a little too close to home --- their 13-year-old adopted daughter, Sharlah.
I will start this review by saying that RIGHT BEHIND YOU is my first Quincy & Rainie novel, but not my introduction to Gardner. While I enjoyed last year’s FIND HER --- book eight in her Detective D.D.Warren series --- I must say that this new one knocks it completely out of the park.
The book begins with an instantly gripping prologue delivered from the perspective of a very disturbed young man. Rather than handing the reader a stereotypical mysterious figure and investigating his past throughout the novel, Gardner delves right into the young man’s psyche, writing about his extremely abusive and drug-addled parents and his only ray of hope: his younger sister. One night, when he is only nine, his father snaps and kills his mother before turning on the young boy and his sister. After a scuffle, the boy kills his father in self-defense and accidentally breaks his five-year-old sister’s arm in a blind rage."
"To say that RIGHT BEHIND YOU is a page turner is an understatement. Although Gardner begins with a ripped-from-the-headlines murder spree and subsequent chase, she never fails to keep the drama on high, with each new development amplifying the already chilling suspense."
Flipping back to the present day, we meet Sheriff Shelly Atkins, a hometown hero of sorts with her own troubled past. As she goes about her day, she reminisces about her quiet town and how to combat its biggest issue: drugs. When she is called to a shooting at a convenience store, she is not immediately concerned, recognizing that nearly every citizen carries some form of firearm, and mistakes and even small robberies are nothing major. As she arrives on the scene, however, her instincts kick in and it becomes clear that this will be no ordinary night. Once inside, Shelly discovers not one but two brutally murdered bodies and one very suspicious videotape. Rather than hiding, the killer looks directly into the camera, his dark eyes exposing his cold, callous nature.
Switching perspectives once again, we meet 13-year-old Sharlah, a quiet yet deeply intuitive girl who has come to live with Detectives Quincy and Rainie. Although she cares for her adoptive parents, she has suffered many terrible losses in her short life and has a great deal of trouble expressing her feelings to them. Fortunately, Quincy and Rainie are not strangers to trauma and appreciate their quiet household. Gardner’s writing of this small, unlikely family elevates RIGHT BEHIND HER from a simple psychological thriller to a novel with real depth and substance. Each member of the household is carefully written and studied, their nuances and idiosyncrasies all deeply personal yet instantly relatable.
Of course, these three storylines must converge, and when they do, it is not at all pleasant for any of Gardner’s creations. After Shelly identifies the convenience store killer as foster child Telly Ray Nash, she and her team discover that he has murdered two other people earlier that day. With no one to question, they must attempt to track his journey away from the store. This introduces a fascinating character named Cal, who prides himself on his abilities to think like his targets. He does not examine muddy footprints and broken twigs while sniffing the wind, as we see on television. Instead he asks things like, “If I’m a 17-year-old boy who is low on water, which route do I take through the forest?” Although he is always professional, Cal’s interesting take on the case provides readers with a lighthearted foil that is necessary for dealing with the more terrifying details.
Given the severity of the case, it makes sense for the sheriff to call in local professionals Quincy and Rainie. But when they recognize the murderer and his horrifying ties to their adopted daughter’s past, the case takes on a new level of seriousness. As members of the tracking team are attacked and evidence implying that the murderer knows more about Sharlah than he should, Quincy and Rainie must take the reins while protecting everything they hold dear.
To say that RIGHT BEHIND YOU is a page turner is an understatement. Although Gardner begins with a ripped-from-the-headlines murder spree and subsequent chase, she never fails to keep the drama on high, with each new development amplifying the already chilling suspense. Where she really shines, however, is in her characters, each of whom possesses a fully fleshed-out background and some sort of dark motivation. No one in Gardner’s book is entirely innocent, and it will take readers some time to figure out who is a red herring and who is a cold-blooded killer. Telly, for example, is a magnificent study in character development. While he initially comes across as your stereotypical abused child turned vicious killer, Gardner slowly reveals new details about his personality that will tug at any reader’s heartstrings while giving you a bit of a lesson in psychology and trauma.
I mentioned earlier that this was my first Quincy & Rainie thriller, but it definitely will not be my last.
Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 3, 2017