Aurora “Rory” Mackenzie is back living in her Southern California hometown of Ransom River after living abroad, working for an organization committed to helping refugees seeking political asylum. When funding for her work is suddenly cut off, Mackenzie is back home and serving on jury duty. Despite its folksy, charming vibe, Ransom River is a place filled with dark secrets and ghosts, and Mackenzie has had her share of misery growing up there.
The past and present violently clash when she and her fellow jurors are taken hostage by two masked men during the sensationalistic trial of two police officers involved in a deadly shooting that ends with one cop dead. In the aftermath of the courtroom melee, Mackenzie is singled out by the Ransom River police as a possible accomplice of the gunmen. Mackenzie and her ex-lover Seth, a person she’s known since childhood and who has his own dark past to deal with as well, team up to clear her name. Parting from her usual series novels, Meg Gardiner delivers this standalone book introducing a thoroughly interesting and believable main character in Rory Mackenzie.
While the plotting is fine-tuned and tight, and the mystery at the heart of this tale captivatingly suspenseful throughout, it’s the well-realized characters of Rory and Seth that help make this book so successful. Crime fiction in all its permutations is full of deeply flawed, psychically damaged heroes. Rory is another damaged misfit, as is Seth, but what Gardiner so skillfully accomplishes is never making the weight of their inner pain feel forced or morbid. Rory is a survivor and a tough one at that. She’s also intelligent, and her drive to confront the demons of her past, which are possibly connected to the events at the courthouse, always comes off as plausible and identifiable. She’s a great main character and the pulse at the heart of this gripping read.