Eighteen years ago, when my son, Mike, was two years of age and
still cute, I lost him for what seemed like a millennium in a Chuck
E. Cheese emporium on a snowy Sunday afternoon. His older brother
had asked me for some game tokens; I dropped one while pulling a
handful out of my jacket pocket and while picking them up I
momentarily lost my grip on Mike. That was all it took for him to
vanish off of the face of my earth. I did a quick 360 degree scan
and couldn't find him. I ran into and through rooms full of
birthday parties, teenage waiters, and giant rats doing
country-western and rock and roll standards, all of it at maximum
volume, but still no Mike. I checked both restrooms (yeah, both).
No Mike. I had visions of him innocently walking through the
parking lot, holding hands with a stranger who looked at him with
longing and anticipation as he helped my son, my world, into a car.
I ran through a labyrinth of hallways, my throat sore from the
scream I was trying to keep under wraps, almost bowling over a
gaggle of little girls, just in time to see Mike standing by the
door trying to divine the intricacies of an exit latch he couldn't
quite reach. I ran to him, scooped him up, and began to
hyperventilate. I had forgotten to breathe the whole time my
one-man search was going on.
This episode, anxiety and all, came back to me with acid-flashback
intensity before I was even 20 pages into TAKEN, Kathleen George's
debut novel. The setup to the novel's entire premise is so
brilliant that I hate to even give it away, but I'll tell you a
little. Marina Benedict is an erstwhile actress caught in a slowly
deteriorating marriage to (what else) an attorney. While in
downtown Pittsburgh she sees a beautiful baby out shopping with his
mother. She sees the baby a few minutes later --- without his
mother and with a man she is certain is not the child's father.
Acting on impulse and without hesitation, she follows the man and
child into a desolate neighborhood and finds herself in the middle
of a front-page story. For the child --- the infant son of a rookie
pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates --- has indeed been kidnapped,
and Benedict suddenly finds her life at terrible risk as the result
of her brave, impetuous act. She also finds herself on a collision
course with Richard Christie, the lead detective on the case.
Christie feels internal and external pressures to solve this matter
quickly, knowing that the chances of recovering the baby alive grow
dimmer with each passing day. At the same time, he must juggle the
problems of his own marriage while dealing with his attraction to
Benedict --- and her attraction to him.
This, however, is only a part of TAKEN. There is action here, as
one would expect from a suspense novel, but much of it takes place
off of the page. The reader does not see the actual kidnapping as
it happens but is emotionally wrung out from it nonetheless, simply
from the secondary descriptions. But the focus is on the players.
The primary characters are riveting, in and of themselves. One of
these, Joe, is part of the kidnapping team and is, without
particular pattern, maddeningly slow in some ways, immeasurably
brilliant in others. But the secondary characters --- a 15-year-old
who only appears for a pivotal few paragraphs, and Benedict's
bitter, angry loser of a sister, to name but two --- resonate and
echo as if they had whole books written about them and them alone.
George is a theater professor at the University of Pittsburgh and
has previously published THE MAN IN THE BUICK, a collection of
short stories. The character development, the way her plot
dovetails realistically and perfectly with no tearing, straining,
or stretching, is not what one would expect from a writer with such
a relatively small bibliography. But here it is: a novel of
complexity that is clearly and, yes, at times beautifully told,
with no loose threads and no need for suspension of disbelief. The
simple truth is that one cannot come away from TAKEN without
wanting more from George. Immediately.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011