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by Andrew Gross
Harper, April 2012
464 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0007384270

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dr Henry Steadman is a well-to-do plastic surgeon living in Florida. On his way to deliver a talk in Jacksonville he is stopped by a policeman and charged with serious motoring offences that he has not committed.

The author explains in a trailer for the book that what happens to Henry Steadman actually happened to him in real life whilst in Houston. A policeman who enjoyed the power his uniform conferred forced him from his car, questioned him, handcuffed him and threatened him with jail. It is certainly a very telling beginning to what turns out to be a nightmarish scenario, told at a frantic pace. Before Steadman knows what is happening to him he finds himself arrested and handcuffed and in danger of being charged with murder and concludes that he has only one option - to flee the scene.

As he does so, and as he tries to make sense of what has happened, he comes to the conclusion that he has been deliberately framed. If he knew why, he might be able to find out who was responsible and if he knew who was responsible he might be able to find out why. But he knows nothing except that he must not allow himself to be arrested. Very shortly he is given an even stronger reason for avoiding this when the person responsible rings him.

From this point on the plot moves fast and relentlessly, providing a reminder of that other innocent but hunted doctor in THE FUGITIVE. The only time the pace really falters is when Gross takes a number of pages to describe how Steadman phones his ex-wife and tells her in great detail what the reader already knows. It is some time before the identity of the person who has decided to persecute Steadman in this way is made known.

Gross recognises the difficulty that a private citizen, operating alone, would have in identifying and reaching the person responsible for his predicament and so provides him with help in the form of a policewoman, although a policewoman with a difference. Carrie Holmes works for the Jacksonville Sheriff's office as a community outreach director. If Steadman is to make any progress in locating the real murderer it is essential that he convince somebody who can influence events of his innocence.

Slowly, Carrie comes to believe Steadman's story and decides to help. From that point on things become easier as she and Steadman are able to work on different aspects of the search. What they do not have, however, is time, because the perpetrator is threatening to do something of which Steadman is terrified and time is running out. In the final chapters, as the pair eventually come to grips with someone now clearly insane, the excitement builds and there is a driving intensity to the closing stages of the book.

Arnold Taylor is a retired examinations board officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, September 2012

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