Brad Denning is a successful architect living a perfect life in Denver with his loving wife and son. Or so it would be, if not for the haunting memory of his brother Petey who disappeared while under Brad's supervision when they were kids. Now, a man claiming to be his sibling has mysteriously appeared and Brad is eager to take him in, despite the man's haggard appearance and reluctance to reveal anything about his past. "Petey" is a welcome addition to the family, until a camping trip goes terribly wrong and Brad returns home to find that his devoted wife and son have been abducted. Certain that Petey -- or whoever he may be -- is responsible for the horrible crime, Brad sets out to recover his family. Travelling alone through America's heartland, it's a race against time as Brad struggles to get to his family before the terrible secret of what really happened long ago destroys everything he cares about.
Like Robert Ludlum, Morrell began his bestselling career with short, tough action yarns (First Blood; Testament), then moved into very long, very complex conspiracy thrillers (The Brotherhood of the Rose). This modestly exciting thriller is a return to his old laconic style, but what's missing is the original plotting that has marked so much of Morrell's fiction. The novel does boast a first-rate setup: narrator Brad Denning is on top of the world, with a great career as an architect, a wonderful wife, Kate, and son, Jason, 11 never mind the trauma that scarred his youth, when his 11-year-old younger brother, Petey, was kidnapped, never to be found. Now a "rough-looking" man shows up outside Brad's Denver office, claiming to be the long-lost Petey. Brad takes Petey, who's apparently become a hard-knock drifter, into his home. Days later, Petey pushes Brad off a cliff, leaving him for dead. Battered Brad claws his way home to find Petey gone, along with the presumably kidnapped Kate and Jason. The remainder of the novel details Brad's cross-country attempt to track them down. Morrell tosses in a major complication when it appears that Petey may not be Petey after all, but few readers will be surprised by the novel's conclusion. Along the way, there are several strong action sequences, particularly one in which Brad gets trapped in a dark, snake-infested cellar, but Morrell has written this sort of pitch-black action scene before. The novel is slick, but there's little in it that's unexpected.