Every Crooked Path by Steven James (Signet, Dec. 1st)-Steven James’ Chess series, featuring Patrick Bowers, is wildly popular, but the new book is actually a prequel (takes place after Opening Moves), and it would be a great starting point for those that are new to the author.
In it, FBI agent Patrick Bowers is called to a crime scene where a man had been stabbed to death, where Bowers is attacked by a man who leaps to his death, but not before Bowers is given cryptic info. Soon, Patrick is drawn into an investigation involving the worst of predators: those that prey on children. A string of child disappearances, and deaths, point him in the direction of a possible exploitation ring and something called the Final Territory. Eventually, he partners with a fellow agent whose five year old daughter was killed a few years ago, hoping to find out who was responsible. Through all this, Patrick is trying to navigate a romance with his girlfriend Christie, and forging a bond with her teen daughter Tessa. Soon, he’s immersed in a very dark world, where perpetrators hide behind masks (I can’t begin to describe how creepy these people are), and come from every walk of life, including law enforcement. He’s desperate to find the missing children, and he’ll explore every avenue he can to do so.
Meanwhile, a shy man named Francis Edlemore finds his work is getting to him. He catalogs images of child abuse for the International Child Safety Consortium (ICSC), who in turn provides the info for law enforcement to help missing and exploited children. He’s terrified that seeing these images day in and day out is damaging him psychologically, and his insurance is about to stop covering the necessary therapy that has helped him work through the things he sees while at his job. He’s also been communicating online with a girl that says she’s 18, but he suspects she’s younger. When Patrick seeks his help in the current case, Francis sees a path to redeem himself from some dark thoughts he’s been having, and he meets a girl that he hopes will break him out of his shell, and accept him for who he is.
Although the events in the book revolve around child exploitation, the author states at the outset that you won’t read any graphic descriptions of the crimes. Trust me, he doesn’t have to get graphic. Just the idea of this stuff is enough to make people want to bundle up their children and run screaming into the night. Yet, Steven James juggles what should be some pretty challenging themes with ease, while making his story so thrilling, you won’t want to put it down. It’s easy to root for Patrick, and Tessa, who could have been relegated to the bit player bin, is smart and inquisitive, and the scenes between her and Patrick (as they connect over things like video games and brain teasers) are a delight. Even more astonishing is imbuing Patrick with a healthy sense of humor without disrespecting the very wicked deeds that the bad guys (and girls), are up to. This book will keep you guessing, and things like the Darknet, the ease that our digital world (for all the good it absolutely does) affords perpetrators of this kind, and the reality of what law enforcement and the civilians that assist them are faced with on a daily basis while trying to stop child exploitation is so tragic, yet so necessary. If you’re looking for real heroes, they certainly qualify. Don’t let the heinous subject matter put you off. James handles it with sensitivity and an eye toward the men and women that are putting their lives and mental health on the line to stop such insidious horror. The intriguing ending hints at future books in this timeline as well. Don’t miss this one.