"Closer Than You Know" by Brad Parks; Dutton (416 pages, $26)
Brad Parks confidently undertakes his second domestic thriller with a believable story about a woman whose horrible childhood pales next to the turmoil she's facing as an adult.
After years of being emotionally and physically abused by their parents, Melanie Barrick and her brother, Teddy, ended up in foster care. Teddy was adopted but Melanie was shuttled from one foster home to another. Despite this, Melanie managed to rise above her background, put herself through college and dotes on her three-month-old son, Alex. Yes, she's constantly frazzled and her small salary has to support her grad student husband, Ben, but her life is stable.
Melanie's descent begins when she is late picking up Alex from daycare, only to find that Social Services has taken him into custody without notifying her. She learns that the police have found a half-kilo of cocaine in her home and that she is being accused of running one of the largest drug operations in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. She's labeled the Coke Mom by Aaron Dansby, the politically ambitious commonwealth attorney for Augusta County. The case falls to deputy commonwealth attorney Amy Kaye who seems to have an airtight case against Melanie. Amy also is working on an investigation into a criminal dubbed "The Whispering Rapist," who has been attacking women for decades.
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"Closer Than You Know" moves at a brisk pace as Parks makes each character realistic and makes the peril that comes into each's life believable. Although the reader assumes from the beginning that Melanie is innocent, the evidence that builds against her is convincing. Parks persuasively illustrates the struggles of having lived in bad foster homes and the obstacles that Melanie has had to overcome to live normally – making it even more poignant when every aspect of her life comes crashing down. Parks skillfully links Amy's two cases with aplomb.
But "Closer Than You Know" stumbles at the end with a resolution that seems contrived and is further marred by uninspired dialogue. This denouement doesn't the support the rest of the thrills that "Closer Than You Know" has delivered.
But Melanie's pluck at reinventing herself, and Amy's thoughtful look at the law elevate "Closer Than You Know."