Two Girls Down: A Novel
“Two Girls Down is a tense and intelligently written thriller, but it’s also the story of two disparate persons’ unexpected discovery of a closer bond.”
The crime wasn’t an unusual one: a mother leaves her daughters in the car while she runs into a store to make a quick purchase. When she returns, the girls are gone. A common tale to the police, but not to Jamie Brandts, whose children, Kylie and Bailey, are now missing.
“‘I can’t find my girls,’ she said to the security guard. She put her hands to her lips after she said it, like she was trying to get the words back.”
The usual suspects are questioned—neighbors, schoolmates. The ex-husband is a skip, can’t be found, so he’s high on the list. When the 48-hour deadline passes and the police don’t seem to be making any headway, the FBI is called in but doesn’t do any better. So Jamie’s family asks Alice Vega to investigate.
Vega has a reputation for finding missing persons, especially children. A lone wolf, she is also abrasive, forceful, and everything that might rile a macho police captain into tossing her out of the precinct office within a few minutes of their meeting. Being a stranger from California plunked down in a small Pennsylvania town doesn’t help, but Vega has a specialist in her corner, a hacker who’s never been stopped by firewalls, passwords, or an other deterrent, and can eventually find anyone or anything, anywhere.
Max Caplan is a retired cop, a disillusioned man who took the blame for a fellow officer’s mistake and let his own career go down the tubes to save him. Now he lives for two things, doing PI grunt work and caring for his teenage daughter. Nell is his pride and joy, surprisingly mature and intelligent, she makes certain her father eats, discusses his cases with him, and also manages to do well in school.
When Vega meets with Cap, intending to hire him to do leg work on her case, the two are plunged into the center of an investigation mishandled from the beginning, earning the ire of both their client and the investigating officers. Cap is thrust back into the company of the men he once worked with, some still his friends, others scornful of the cop guilty of a gross dereliction of duty. Vega is a wild card they don’t even want to think about, a woman who fights like a man and isn’t afraid to tell even the police chief what she thinks of him.
There is more than one altercation and more than one threat exchanged before Cap and Vega are allowed into the case, even then somewhat grudgingly.
“‘It’s clear to me you and Miss Vega have meet before, correct?’ the Chief said.
‘Yes, sir. She wanted to pool resources.’ Junior answered. ‘I told her we didn’t work with civilians.’
‘You didn’t think this case might warrant a different approach when we’re maxed out on manpower and officers are working triple shifts? Captain, your pride was a useless thing to me before but now that it has gotten in the way of this investigation, it’s an abomination.’”
That attitude changes as Cap’s former associates see what a good team he and the California investigator make. It isn’t long before Cap and Vega see it also.
Going over leads the others dismissed as irrelevant, they discover a single oddity that turns the case in their favor. The strong resemblance of a person of interest to one of the actors in Pirates of the Carribean, Kylie Brandt’s favorite movie, brings a new perspective to the case.
Soon another discovery linking the Brandt girls’ disappearance to those of three girls in other Pennsylvania towns points the way to the culprit. It’s a path ending in another murder, a shootout in the snow, hush money sent to grieving parents, and the revelation of a viciously perverted sense of mother love.
Though this novel is definitely a thriller, the development of the relationship between the two main characters forms a surprisingly charming subplot. Beginning as antagonistic actors in a larger drama, Cap and Vega gradually become partners, accepting each other as they are, able to think alike and communicate by mere nod and gesture, and, as the story nears its conclusion, they are gently easing into something more personal.
“There was something about his place she liked; something made her want to sit in his living room in the summertime and feel a warm breeze blow through.”
The transition of Vega the Loner and Cap the Disillusioned into two people filled with mutual hope becomes a tentative love story in the midst of the investigation of a vicious crime.
This novel is well-written in a semi-gritty narrative, revealing inner thoughts and emotions, occasionally hard-hitting, more often on a visceral level, when dwelling on the mental pain and torment experienced by a parent fearing for her children’s lives and suffering self-guilt for her part in their disappearance.
Two Girls Down is a tense and intelligently written thriller, but it’s also the story of two disparate persons’ unexpected discovery of a closer bond.