Wednesday, March 09, 2016

THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND, T. M. Causey, Serial Murder Plus Paranormal Plus Powerful Storytelling

When seasoned storyteller Toni McGee Causey tugged on her T. M. Causey persona for THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND, she chose to go dark -- very dark. And turning her experience in "romantic suspense" Southern novels toward an FBI hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana has put her onto the terrain of the "big writers" of suspense thrillers. Take the loneliness of Lee Child's Jack Reacher, add the determination of Jon Land's Caitlin Strong, and for the third strand, let loose the diabolical wickedness of the killers in, say, Jeffery Deaver's Lincolm Rhyme books. Yes, that seems about right.

But let's start at the beginning of the book, with Avery Broussard riding a but to her former hometown in Louisiana, hoping not to be recognized. The hope is soon dashed, because Avery's been on all the major newspaper front pages for a long time. Her pyschic gift, the ability -- or curse -- of seeing what people have lost, and sometimes where to find those items, pushed her into volunteering as a consultant for the FBI. Sure, the professionals were skeptical, but the FBI agent in charge of the Little Princess Killer cases, Hank, tested Avery to the max and chose to work with her, defend her, protect her as she gave herself to the investigations.

Now Avery's on the run from even Hank. Her most recent efforts to find the small girls that the Little Princess Killer abducts worked out in one sense -- she found the child -- but too late to save the girl's life, by a mere couple of hours. In despair, and blaming herself for the child's death, Avery still wouldn't have run home. After all, her father -- whose pyschic gift is even more awkward than here, because he sees how and when each person will die -- warned Avery years ago that her lifelong true love Jack would kill her. She ran away from marrying Jack, at a cost that's been overwhelming for her and her beloved. Especially since he has no idea why she left him.

So when her father (one of only three people to have her phone number) had a new vision and phoned her to tell her that her brother Latham would die if she didn't come back home, Avery was acutely aware that only pain lay in front of her. And Jack. But given the chance, didn't she need to save her brother's life? (He is the only other person in the town suffering from a psychic gift. Gift? Curse, is more like it.)

Readers of serial killer cases know there's no escape from the evil until you fight it and defeat it, though. And the same holds for Avery. She may think she's home to save her brother. Even for that, she needs to face down her own PTSD, guilt, and horrified awareness of the losses all around her.

That's a lot of twists all at once, and a lot to ask of a reader. But Causey's storytelling is so strong, and Avery's desperate courage is so painful and necessary, that this is a true page-turner.

Take, for example, Avery's first task after she sets up a carefully guarded home for herself, surrounded by alarms, cameras, whatever it takes to keep the curious and the press away from her (and anyone else who may want to hurt someone who's been unsuccessful in preventing children's deaths). Jack's young son Brody goes missing, and Jack's instant reaction is to demand that Avery find this child -- the last thing she needs to be doing, but how can she say no? And in fact, she does find him, once she's able to shake off her "friends." She tells the boy she'll get him to the road home, but he'll have to walk the rest of the way to his dad on his own. Of course he asks, why?
"Town weirdo," I said, pointing at myself, "so I get to make whatever rules I want. That's my rule. And here's my other rule: you don't get to tell anyone -- not a soul -- that I helped you tonight. ..."

I put my hand out for him to shake, which was my second big mistake of the night, because he took it and immediately the image of two bloody eyes [of the boy's presumed-dead mom, his pressing loss of the moment] drilled me with the force of a diamond bit grinding through rock. I nearly passed out right there; it was everything I could do to hold it together for the kid. I must've yelped and jumped back from the contact, because suddenly I was standing -- when I was aware again of my surroundings -- a good three feet away from him.

"You okay?" His eyes were big as his face. Even in the moonlight, I could tell he'd gone all pale.
Avery's mix of tough and vulnerable, of love and despair, is as direct and desperate as her language. I couldn't put this one down.

So I guess I have a couple of authors now whose "paranormal mysteries" are so compelling  that I'll ignore my allergy to psychic moments, and keep turning the pages. (One of those authors is John Connolly. Another is the aforementioned Jon Land.) I never doubted that T.M. Causey would whip, twist, and pound the plot -- and her characters -- to a highly satisfying ending. And sure enough, she does.

I may have to get in line for more of these. Bottom line: tight plot, relentless suspense, and powerful human choices, along with the kind of twists the best mysteries should always have. And yes, there's a darned good reason for the title, but I'm not going to spoil the explanation now -- discover it for yourself, in THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND.

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