The Bottom Line: An ingenious, shiver-inducing rescue thriller about a wealthy predator who can afford to finance his sickest fantasy. Highly recommended.
As Alan Brenham’s rescue thriller opens in Rome, we meet Franco Lazzari (an alias for Dante Scordato), a wealthy widower who is obsessed with beautiful American foreign service officer Claire Deveraux. We soon learn that Lazzari’s chilling plan for Claire involves a creepy lavender-scented van, shackles, duct tape and, he hopes, a case of Stockholm syndrome.
Claire, who is deaf, proves to be an easy victim. In the early hours of her kidnapping, the two communicate via handwritten notes, in which he assures her that she’ll be safe so long as she doesn’t try to leave. Her captor’s ultimate goal – which involves a secret marriage – is far from the only thing that terrifies Claire. Adding to the danger are Scordato’s four highly protective and loyal Maremma Sheepdogs.
Meanwhile, Claire’s twin sister – a nun known as Sister Magdalene who lives in Luxembourg – soon arrives in Rome. She finds that the investigation into her sister’s disappearance is in complete disarray. A missing hotel employee has been found dead, and the authorities are still contemplating whether Claire’s vanishing could be an act of terrorism. As officials mistake Megan for Claire, it’s clear Brenham is setting the story up for a far bigger case of mistaken identity.
While law enforcement plays a role – Lieutenant Mateo Ferroni works with the Carabinieri and Europol to track down Scodato’s associates – author Alan Brenham wisely keeps the onus on escape on the Deveraux sisters. With much of the story written from their points of view, each attempt at freedom is an edge-of-your-seat adventure.
Brenham’s prose is crisp and his style is never overly sentimental, even in passages when Scordato is reminiscing about his dead wife. Maybe that’s why Alan’s portrait of a villain so wealthy he could potentially get away with anything is so chilling. Because much of what he achieves in the book is possible because of his financial leverage (“he had the money and was perfectly willing to spend whatever it took to find his lost bride-to-be”), Brenham’s portrait of a man who can afford to indulge his sickest fantasies is both memorable and deeply unsettling.