A parent’s worst nightmare: their child is missing from her school, picked up by someone who looks just like them.
That’s how Count to Three begins: Tinsley Callahan is collected from kindergarten by a woman who looks just like Dani Callahan, her mother. Dani is devastated, as one might expect. While her husband insists they give up and move on, Dani refuses. Five years later, the husband is an ex, Dani is a private investigator, and she still keeps the case file on Tinsley open, even while she works on other cases.
She doesn’t do this alone: the original detective on the case is now a friend, and they chat every so often, about Tinsley, or when Dani’s trying to find out something for a client. She also has an assistant named Quinn, who wants to be a PI because he mother vanished some years ago, and she carries that around with her.
In the current timeframe, Ali Cross is kidnapped in broad daylight, dosed with some kind of drug, and tossed into a van. The only witness is 12 year old Ethan, a local “bad kid” who lives with his mom in a rundown trailer. Ethan has an unfortunate habit of lying, getting in trouble, and generally being someone who others ignore.
Ethan hires them to look into Ali’s disappearance, something the local cops have written off as a runaway, since she has run off before (not not really).
Dani and Quinn go to work, finding out everything they can about Ali – social media! – and eventually team up with Ali’s mom to work out strategy, make flyers, and figure out if someone had access to the house (contractors, and so on).
Eventually, they track down Ali’s boyfriend, getting a few minutes to talk to him before something really unfortunate happens.
To keep the place afloat, Dani is also working a case for a woman who insists that someone is coming into her house and rearranging her furniture. This is the comedy relief in what is a very dark book. If you have issues reading about molestation, child sexual abuse, or physical torture, you might want to skip this one.
As Dani and Quinn get closer to finding the perp, the perp is busy throwing obstacles in their way, and threatening Ali’s family if she doesn’t behave herself in her captivity.
Dani’s ex shows up, telling her again to move on, and she tells him off in a way that really gave me a smile. That smile got bigger when she just kicked him out.
The end rushes at us, as it often does in thrillers, and everything’s tied up with a bow on top.
My only real issue with this book is this: Dani and Quinn are running around, poking into this, and they KNOW that the perp is both out in the wild and dangerous, given that he’s killing more people. But they take NO precautions with 12 year old Ethan, even to the point of Quinn leaving him alone on a corner after they’ve been hanging flyers. There’s no sense in this except to make it another plot point, which it does. It just made me angry.
Other than that, it’s a good read. I’d have given it five stars except for the Ethan thing. Four stars instead.
Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the reading copy.