When Melanie Barrick finds herself being framed by on drug charges and her son taken by Social Services, her only hope is Amy Kaye, an assistant commonwealth attorney working a serial rapist cold case, a case from Melanie's past.
Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of crime fiction's most prestigious prizes. A former reporter with The Washington Post and The Star-Ledger (Newark), he lives in Virginia with his wife and two children. His previous novel, Say Nothing, was named both a Library Journal and a Kirkus Best Book of 2017.
Parks builds his thriller on a foundation of near-implausibilities. Melanie Barrick is a rape victim impregnated by the rapist. She gives birth to the rapist's child. Keeps him. Adores him. Melanie's husband is similarly devoted to the child. Readers who can't accept this premise and abandon the book will be missing a fine suspense novel. Melanie returns home from work and discovers her child has been taken from her by the state. Then her house is sealed with crime-scene tape, and she learns that the cops, acting on a tip, have found in the house a stash of cocaine so big they conclude she must be a dealer. Before her streak of rotten luck has ended, she's accused of murder, tossed into prison, and deserted by her husband. Help comes from an unlikely source, prosecutor Amy Kaye, who is handling Melanie's case but senses uncanny connections between the drug bust and the rape. The mix produces some mighty courtroom scenes and introduces a surprise hero: a dumpy defense attorney who has motives of his own. A diverting, exciting read, with an ending you won't see coming. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
A Virginia mom dutifully treading the path toward middle-class respectability is thrown down the rabbit hole when she's accused of drug dealing and worse.Despite having been taken from an abusive father and grown up in a series of group homes and foster homes, Melanie Barrick seems to have landed on her feet. While she works as a dispatcher at Diamond Trucking, her husband, Ben, studies history at James Madison University, where his mentor is grooming him for a tenure-track job, and her 3-month-old son, Alex, is taking baby steps toward becoming his own person. The wrecking ball is lowered on Melanie's life when she's late picking up Alex at day care and learns that Social Services has already spirited him away after hearing that the Augusta County Sheriff's Office has found nearly half a kilo of cocaine hidden in the boy's nursery together with all the evidence they need to convict Melanie of intent to sell. In short order, Melanie is arrested for assaulting a police officer , hauled off to jail, and threatened with five years in prison. Her Social Services hearing is over before it begins, and the preliminary hearing on the criminal charges goes no better. Things couldn't possibly get any worse—unless she finds out that Ben has been lying to her for months about a very important subject and she's charged with the murder of a man she's only seen once before. Deputy commonwealth attorney Amy Kaye, pulled off the case of a serial rapist to slam the prison door on the Coke Mom so that her incompetent, politically minded boss, Aaron Dansby, can burnish his resume and run for higher office, smells a rat, but her attempts to undermine the case against Melanie are as unavailing as her attempts to link the Coke Mom to the Whispering Rapist.Parks (Say Nothing, 2017, etc.) dishes out another irresistible descent into hell for a heroine who regards her harrowing plight with a sobering verdict: "It was like hitting a new bottom every day." Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
He was dressed in his best suit, the one he usually reserved for funerals.
She wore pearls. It made her feel more maternal.
Arm in arm, they walked up a concrete path toward Shenandoah Valley Social Services, whose offices filled a cheerless metal-sided building. There was no landscaping, no ornamentation, no attempt to make the environs more inviting. As an agency of county government, Social Services had neither the budget nor the inclination for such gilding. Its clientele was not there by choice.
The man paused at the front door.
"Remember: We're perfect," he said to his wife.
"The perfect couple," she replied.
He pushed through the door, and they traveled down a stark cinder-block hallway toward the main waiting area. A sign read notice: no weapons.
The room they soon entered was ringed with blue imitation-leather chairs and stern warnings against food-stamp fraud. A smattering of people, all of them luckless enough to be born into multigenerational poverty, looked up and stared. Men in suits and women in pearls were not a common sight here.
Ignoring them, the man and woman crossed the room and announced themselves to a receptionist who was bunkered behind a thick chunk of clear plastic. This could be a tough business: The administering of benefits; the denying of requests; the dispensing of abused and neglected children, taking them from one family and bestowing them on another. There had been incidents.
After a minute or so, the man and woman were greeted by the family services specialist who had been assigned to them, a woman with a tight ponytail and square-framed glasses who received them warmly, by name, with hugs and smiles.
It was all so different from when they had first met her, about three months earlier, when it had been nothing but dry handshakes and justifiable suspicion. Families like this didn't just stumble into Shenandoah Valley Social Services and volunteer to become foster parents. Families like this-who had resources, connections, and that air that suggested they weren't accustomed to waiting for the things they wanted-either went with private adoption agencies or traveled abroad to acquire their babies: eastern Europe if they wanted a white one; Africa, Asia, or South America if they didn't care.
Seriously? the family services specialist wanted to ask them. What are you doing here?
But then she started talking with them, and they won her over. They told her about the failed efforts to get pregnant, then about the tests that revealed they would never be able to have children of their own.
They still wanted a family, though, and they had decided to adopt locally. Why go overseas when there were children in need, right here in their own community? They were just looking for a vessel to receive their love.
The family services specialist tried to explain to them there were no guarantees with this route. It might be months or years before a baby became available. Even then, they might foster the infant for a time and then have to turn it back over to its birth mother. Adoption was always a last resort. Social Services' goal-to say nothing of Virginia statutes-prioritized reunifying children with their biological families.
The woman chewed her fingernails when she heard this. The man seemed undeterred.
After that initial interview had come the parent orientation meeting, then the training sessions. They had taken notes, asked questions, and generally acted like they were trying to graduate at the top of the class.
Their home study, in which every aspect of their residence was inspected, had been flawless, from the child safety locks all the way up to the smoke detectors.
And the nursery? Immaculate. A crib that exceeded every standard. Diapers squared in neat piles. The walls freshly covered in blue paint.
"Blue?" the family services specialist had asked. "What if it's a girl?"
"I have a hunch," the man said.
They flew through the criminal background check. Their paystubs showed ample income. Their bank statements swelled with reserve funds.
Home insurance, check. Car insurance, check. Life insurance, check. Their physician had verified that both the would-be mother and father were in excellent health. Their references gushed with praise.
In her thirteen years on the job, the social services worker had interacted with hundreds of families. Even the best, most loving, most well meaning among them had issues.
This one didn't. She had never met two people more ready for a child.
They were the perfect couple.
Shenandoah Valley Social Services did not officially rank potential foster families, but was there any question about who would be number one on the list if a baby became available?
Even now here they were, turned out like they were attending an important public ceremony when really they were just going back to a shabby, windowless office to accept a piece of paper. It was their certificate, indicating they had completed the necessary steps to become approved foster-care providers.
They beamed as they received it. They were official.
More hugs. More smiles. The receptionist came out of the bunker to take pictures. It was that kind of occasion for this couple.
Then they departed.
"What if we did this all for nothing?" the woman asked as she walked out of the building.
"We didn't," the man assured her.
"You really think it's going to happen?"
He leaned in close.
"Don't worry," he said. "We'll have a baby in no time."