HELPLESS is Daniel Palmer’s sophomore effort, his follow-up to DELIRIOUS. There’s no sign of a slump here in this successor to his well-received debut. It’s full of interesting characters, mystery and plot twists, served up in equal measure to keep you reading and happy to be doing so.
This is a very contemporary book, one that deals with a topic at the forefront of your mind if you are a parent or, for that matter, in your teen years or beyond. Things get rolling early, beginning with a nightmare scenario that is frighteningly dead-on accurate. The media has been full of stories concerning teen queens, whose nude self-portraits suddenly turn up on the Internet. In the book’s first few pages, Palmer gives readers a line-by-line text transcript of how young women are manipulated into posing for and sending --- sexting --- such pictures to begin with. Read the first chapter and try to stop; I dare you.
"[HELPLESS is] full of interesting characters, mystery and plot twists, served up in equal measure to keep you reading and happy to be doing so."
Following its sobering introduction, HELPLESS abruptly shifts its focus to a high school girls’ soccer practice, where Tom Hawkins, the coach of the Shilo Wildcats, is putting the team (including his semi-estranged daughter, Jill) through their paces. A police car pulls up, and an officer informs Tom that his ex-wife has been found dead in the ravine in back of her home. The police officer, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense cop named Brendan Murphy, immediately suspects Tom of foul play, and it doesn’t help Tom that he has an alibi but no proof of it.
Almost immediately, Tom’s world comes crashing down on him. Jill’s attitude had been poisoned against him by her mother, so that suddenly taking custody of her is a prickly thing. Tom then becomes the victim of a vague but extremely damaging rumor that is spread by social networking. Just when things can’t seem to get any worse, the FBI enters the picture. In the course of investigating a suspected pedophile, pictures of nude and partially-clad teenage girls are discovered on the suspect’s computer. The images are traced back to students at Shilo High School and to Tom’s computer. He loses his job and, even worse, his reputation. Almost no one, not even his daughter, believes him.
Help, though, comes from Tom’s attorney, who isn’t content to simply shuffle papers and juggle files on his client’s behalf, and from another, wholly unexpected source, who slowly comes to realize that Tom may in fact be innocent. But will simple belief be enough? And, more importantly, why is this happening to Tom? It turns out that he has been keeping a secret of his own that is now coming back to haunt him and may ultimately kill him.
Palmer was present at the birth of e-commerce and, if HELPLESS is any indication, has continued to keep his information banks up to date on what is occurring in cyberspace. While HELPLESS is a thriller with a set of multiple mysteries at its core, it is also a frightening tale of technology out of control, with the cyber asylum firmly in the hands of the inmates at every level. You will want to disconnect your home wifi and take away your daughter’s cell phone --- the one with the camera --- after reading this book. At least you will think about it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 2, 2012