Review

The Night Monster

by James Swain

I have noticed over the last 18 months or so that, within
gatherings of mystery and thriller novel fans, the name
“James Swain” recurs with some increasing frequency.
Swain began his career with a series of six titles featuring the
wonderfully named Tony Valentine, a casino security expert with an
encyclopedic knowledge of the world of gambling, security and
cheats. The Valentine books remain wonderful to read and re-read,
even if you possess not the slightest interest in gambling. Swain
has more recently introduced Jack Carpenter, a private investigator
operating out of South Florida, who specializes in the recovery of
child abduction victims. THE NIGHT MONSTER is Swain’s fourth
Carpenter novel and 10th overall. It is also his best book to date,
an imaginative and compelling work that demands a one-sit
reading.

THE NIGHT MONSTER provides a bit of Carpenter’s backstory,
consisting of an explanation as to how and why he became involved
in the recovery of missing children. One of his first calls as a
rookie cop concerned the abduction of a young woman. Despite
encountering the kidnapper, Carpenter was unable to prevent the
crime. The culprit escaped and the victim was never found. The
experience affected him to the extent that, after becoming a
detective, he began running the Broward County Sheriff’s
Office Missing Persons Unit and continued to do so right up to the
point where he was fired from the force.

Now regarded as an expert in such matters by both the public and
private sectors, Carpenter suddenly finds himself confronting his
oldest and worst nightmare when another young woman, Sara Long ---
a college basketball player who is a teammate of Carpenter’s
daughter --- is kidnapped despite Carpenter’s best efforts.
Although the Broward County Sheriff’s Office almost
immediately arrests a likely suspect, Carpenter knows they have the
wrong man. This time around, however, he has two very determined
allies. One is Sara’s father, a wealthy if extremely abrasive
individual who is willing to throw every resource at his disposal
for the goal of recovering his daughter alive and unharmed. The
other is Ken Linderman, an FBI special agent whose own daughter was
kidnapped under similar, though not identical, circumstances years
before and is willing to assist Carpenter off the books in order to
obtain some clue as to the final fate of his daughter.

These two men (and an unexpected assist from a source that will
delight long-time Swain fans) provide Carpenter with the first
rough clues that lead back through time, demonstrating a series of
abductions throughout South Florida that ultimately take them to a
rural town where a nightmarish scenario awaits them. This provides
most if not all of the answers the three of them seek, and
discloses how multiple abductions over the course of two decades
could take place throughout South Florida under the noses of law
enforcement.

Swain’s plotting and characterization here are
unforgettable. Carpenter is driven and obsessed but never loses his
core humanity, and the vignettes played out between himself and his
dog, Buster, are realistic and alternate between humorous and
heartwarming. However, it is the over-the-shoulder look into how
missing persons, particularly children, are found, combined with
Swain’s addicting narrative, that make THE NIGHT MONSTER a
must-read.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011

The Night Monster
by James Swain

  • Publication Date: September 15, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345515463
  • ISBN-13: 9780345515469