Descent by Tim Johnston

Descent by Tim Johnston ©2015 Algonquin

The Courtland family’s son, Sean, and daughter, Caitlin, go for a mountain bike ride and run, respectively, while the family is on vacation in Colorado. Sean is badly injured when a car hits him, and the driver, fearful of prosecution, will only help by giving Catilin a ride down the mountain to where she can get cell phone service. Caitlin reluctantly gets in the car, and then disappears.

The story is mainly about how the Courtlands are affected by her disappearance. Mom, Angela, goes crazy, Dad, Grant, and son, Sean, become dangerously confrontational with whoever they find too suspicious or aggressive. Grant stays in Colorado to keep up the hopeless search for Caitlin and is eventually joined by Sean. In between, you get snippets of Catilin being held hostage on a chain in a remote mountain cabin by her abductor, “the monkey.”

Grant and Sean get confrontational with a local bully, named Billy, and Billy ends up having a chance encounter with “the monkey,” and decides to follow him. Why self-centered Billy, who despises Grant and Sean, suddenly chooses to play hero on behalf of their missing daughter/sister, was a head-scratcher. But Billy plays an important part in Caitlin’s escape and reunion with her family.

Descent disappointed me in its lack of character development, particularly—1) What was going on in Billy’s head to transform him from asshole to saint, 2) What drove “the monkey” to be such an asshole, and especially 3) How did Mom, Angela, climb from institutionalized insanity back to functioning woman? If Descent had delved more into these characters, it could have been outstanding. As is, the book is an okay good-girl-versus-the-bad-guy suspense tale. Johnston’s novel is worth the time, even if it could have been a whole lot better.

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