In her first standalone thriller in more than a decade, Laurie R. King has crafted the world of Guadalupe Middle School and populated it with a number of characters from her various short story works. From the school principal, her husband, a cop who is speaking at the career day, and a school custodian to the students who play major roles in the story, characters are fully explored in their makeup and motivations. A brief appearance of Detective Kate Martinelli and Brother Erasmus from the King's Martinelli series offers a welcome moment and a reminder of how much that early series is missed.
The main plot of the story is told mostly over the course of one day and the events leading up to and including a stunning act of terror during the school's Career Day. A time stamp marks the start of each chapter as events unfold and King doles out information in bits and pieces. Wisely, to keep the character-heavy story from getting bogged down, she uses flashbacks to flesh out stories for many characters, and tells one boy's story through case notes written by the school psychologist.
Perhaps the most intriguing use of a character in the story comes in the form of a missing and presumed dead girl. Her disappearance hangs like a shadow over the school and the people who populate it. She seems to have affected everyone and it pays off in unexpected ways later in the story. In fact, as you learn more about the girl, you might find yourself longing for a story that fully explores what happened to her because it would be a fascinating all by itself.
While the story takes most of the novel to get to where it is ultimately going, you don't feel as if you are spinning your wheels waiting for something to happen. The individual stories inevitably dovetail toward a shattering conclusion, and King pumps up the adrenaline level to deliver a dramatic confrontation that leaves all parties changed forever—for better or for worse. Whether the story is framed to critique the causes behind school shootings, our seeming apathy beyond the initial outrage over such events, or a call for better gun control laws, King's decision to humanize her characters prior to the attack is an immensely important to our investment in the outcome of the story and the desire for their survival.
Lockdown, despite the heavy nature of the plot, exudes a sense of warmth in the writing and never feels like it is exploiting what has become an all-too-familiar real world tragedy. While King's main writing focus is the Mary Russell series, this digression once more into her standalone work continues her winning streak of peerless storytelling.