by Brad Parks
It is fascinating that by browsing in a bookstore you can find books that you never would have found online. That's the biggest reason why I still patronize bookstores. You can get a feeling for a story by holding the book and flipping through it that you can't get otherwise. I don't think I had ever heard of this author before. Without his book being on display I would have continued on, blissfully ignorant of his work. Well that would have been a loss. Don't get me wrong. You can also get some truly bad clunkers by picking up unheralded books but overall I've been pretty lucky in finding some heretofore hidden gems in bookstores. Now for all I know this book could have been hyped endlessly in various newspaper reviews. I don't know. All I know was that it was new to me. I enjoyed it. Although this book is not by any means a horror story I found myself being reminded of Stephen King for the quick easy way that Parks outlined his characters and put them in some very dangerous yet believable situations. A truism about life that is both wonderful and yet terrifying is that something horrible can happen to you, something that will change your life forever, and the world will keep on turning. Right now someone somewhere is drawing their last breath. Someone is falling in love. Someone is being fired. Someone just got shot. Someone just got promoted to partner/division head/managing director. Someone is beating their spouse. And someone is joyously listening to their child's first words. And despite all of that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.
Suburban Virginia resident and Federal District Judge Scott Sampson experiences the seeming arbitrary nature of life one Wednesday afternoon. He is, as is his prerogative as workplace boss, about to leave work early to pick up his six year old twins, Sam and Emma, from school. The plan is to go swimming at the YMCA as they do every Wednesday. Scott really enjoys being a father. He enjoys every second he spends with his offspring.
But Scott gets a text from his wife Allison saying that she forgot to tell him but that the kids have a doctor's appointment. So she'll pick them up and bring them home. Mildly disappointed Scott heads home, and having nothing else to do, starts making the kids' lunches for the next day. Scott and Allison try to live a life free of gender stereotypes, you see. But when Allison arrives home she doesn't have the kids. She denies sending any text. Before the couple can sort this out Scott gets a call from a restricted number. The caller tells him he's probably wondering where his children are. The caller tells Scott that if he or his wife even look like they're thinking of contacting the authorities, their children will pay a very dear price. There's an upcoming case in Scott's court in which the caller has an interest. Scott will receive further instructions later. All this happens in the first three pages so it's not a spoiler. This kicks off a break neck thriller/detective story in which Scott must figure out who is behind the kidnapping while trying to save his kids. Allison has her own suspicions, most of which center on the young, attractive and foreign born babysitter. It's impossible to keep Allison's family from the truth. Scott's older pushy sister-in-law has her own ideas about what to do next. And she's not shy about telling Scott what she would do if those were her kids in peril.
Some previously unthinkable ideas start rolling around Scott's head. Given the power that federal judges possess it's perhaps unusual that there aren't more attempts to unlawfully influence them. Think about your loved ones. If someone threatened to hurt them they'd have control over you, wouldn't they? Unless you're Keyser Soze that is. What would you do to someone who harmed your kith and kin? Scott reconsiders who should be inside his circle of trust. How much lying could you do to those you love? How much would you accept? The kidnapping puts immense strain on the Sampson marriage.
It is frustrating/emasculating to Scott that even though he is protected by Federal Marshals and has numerous contacts in the FBI, Congress, and the entire D.C. power structure he is unable to call upon that power to protect his children. No, he must solve this problem himself. As a federal judge Scott has tremendous discretion to shape cases according to the kidnappers' demands. But his unusual actions, though often legal, will be noted and perhaps even acted upon by court clerks, attorneys, financial journalists, higher ranking judges and most ominously Congressmen with the power to impeach. If you like mysteries with plenty of misdirection, constantly increasing tension, secrets and clues hidden in plain sight, and little hints that only become important later then you will like this story. It keeps you guessing. It switches back and forth between first and third person. Say Nothing is around 400 pages. There's not many wasted words. This cries out to be made into a film.