Review

The Night Stalker

by James Swain

I keep my collection of James Swain novels on my reference
shelf. His readers --- and that collective group seems to grow by
the day --- are not only entertained but also informed by each
volume that is published. Swain’s Tony Valentine books
focused on the gambling industry from both sides of the gaming
table; his more recent Jack Carpenter works, of which THE NIGHT
STALKER is his second and latest, explore the nightmare concept of
child abduction and recovery.

Jack Carpenter is a former South Florida cop turned private
investigator who is quite simply the best at what he does:
reuniting abducted children with their parents. In THE NIGHT
STALKER, he receives an unexpected call from Abb Grimes, whose
grandson, Sampson, has been kidnapped. Abb is not just any citizen;
he is a convicted serial killer who has run out of appeals and is
facing his date with the executioner in just a few days. The
abduction was accompanied with a warning to Abb: stop talking with
the FBI. Abb wants his grandson found and reunited with his family
before his own execution takes place.

Jack’s investigation, however, uncovers surprises almost
from its onset. Jack learns that Sampson’s mother is Heather
Rinker, his daughter’s childhood friend. Heather has taken
several wrong turns in her life but is trying to get things back on
track. She is also attempting to reconcile with Abb’s son,
Jed, who is Sampson’s father. Jed, though, is a deeply
disturbed individual, in no small part due to the legacy that he
has inherited as the result of his father’s notoriety. Jack
is initially most surprised by the resistance of local law
enforcement to his investigation, particularly on the part of Ron
Cheeks, who exhibits an almost palpably hostile attitude toward
Jack. Ron, as well as an FBI agent assigned to Sampson’s
case, is convinced that Jed is responsible for Sampson’s
kidnapping.

When Abb’s attorney is found brutally murdered, in a
fashion similar to the killings for which Abb was convicted, it
appears that Jed has done more than inherit his father’s
legacy: he seems to be actively carrying it out. All of
Jack’s instincts and experiences, however, tell him that Jed,
though given to bizarre behavior, is not the guilty party, and
races to uncover the truth behind not only Sampson’s
abduction but also a mystery that holds more than one innocent life
in a precarious balance.

Swain paints the backstory of his work with meticulous research,
which he uses to create a breathtaking narrative that jumps
seamlessly from one scene to the next. Utilizing a combination of
informed profiling, behavioral patterns and case histories, Swain
gives Jack a real-world and caring persona to whom the reader can
instantly relate. For example, there is a scene near the beginning
of the book that involves the abduction of a child from an
elementary school. In a few sentences, Swain sets up an apparently
unsolvable puzzle that Jack resolves quickly, methodically and
(most importantly) plausibly over the course of a few breathtaking
pages.

As with the whole of THE NIGHT STALKER, the clock keeps ticking,
but time is always about to run out. And once you start reading it,
you won’t stop.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011

The Night Stalker
by James Swain

  • Publication Date: September 30, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345475526
  • ISBN-13: 9780345475527