Miss Bates never recovered from Jonathan Demme’s brilliant Silence Of the Lambs as the thriller par excellence, despite the critical controversy it garnered then and since. And if Miss Bates hasn’t rallied (her discombobulation matched only by the effect of the Dutch film, The Vanishing … kept her sleepless for three nights) from Demme’s horror/thriller film, thriller writers haven’t either. Irene Hannon’s contemporary, inspirational thriller, Trapped, runs in this vein. It does not reach Silence‘s heights of horror frissons, portray the killer’s and pursuer’s psychological make-up with the same astuteness and precision, or wow us with penetratingly chilly dialogue, but it kept Miss Bates engaged and … poised and tense for the next scene. The faith content was relatively minor; the romance, on the other hand, was more interesting than the suspense. Hannon’s ideas about redemption, second chances, forgiveness, and hope are powerful, but their execution is clichéd. She could have told a more original story, but she did not fail to tell an interesting one.
Trapped opens with worried, harried, 33-year-old librarian, Laura Griffith, guardian of Darcy, her recently orphaned, teen-aged half-sister. Amidst a killer snow/sleet/ice storm, Laura arrives home from work to find Darcy gone, only a terse note left behind on her pillow. Sorry for the tension in their lives because they were still learning to live with each other, Laura, who loves her sister and is committed to taking care of her, hires P. I. James “Dev” Devlin, of Phoenix Inc., to find her. The story is thus set up for the reader to follow: Darcy on her harrowing experience as a runaway; a time-sensitive, knuckle-biting chase for Devlin to rescue Darcy; Dev and Laura as they get to know and like each other, work together, and fall in love. Oh … once in a while, Laura prays … Darcy’s dire straits lead her to prayer … moreover, the disheartened-with-faith Dev eventually, by the last few chapters, prays too.
Dev is charming, honorable, and loveable. Laura represents, especially for the heartsore Dev, the Christian idea of patient loving-kindness, and yet, part of what Miss Bates liked about Hannon’s handling of these characters, is that Laura is still kinda sexy. And Dev notices. The initially sullen Darcy grows sympathetically as she realizes how much she owes and loves her big sister. Darcy changes from immature, difficult, rebellious teen to a young woman humbled by experience, grateful, thoughtful, loyal, and self-sacrificing.
The villain is creepy and conventional in light of Silence and shows like Dexter. Hannon had an opportunity to write a story about what it’d be like for a middle-class girl to find herself homeless and helpless, subject to the mundane exploitations of the “streets.” Instead, we get Silence of the Lambs … Miss Bates was disappointed, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t caught up in Hannon’s story. She was, and you might be too. Dev and Laura race “against the clock” as they try to locate Darcy … all the while Darcy is still in St. Louis, where the novel is set, held captive, “trapped,” in the home of a seemingly model citizen, daycare centre manager, Mark Hamilton, who has an insane obsession with cleanliness and his personal mission for the redemption of girls gone astray … or else.
Hannon’s writing is serviceable and adept, if not inspired. The writing is smooth and the suspenseful scenes, especially in the last five chapters, are recounted with an urgency and energy that put the reader on the edge of her seat. The middle of the novel, however, where she establishes the whys and wherefores of her killer’s motivations and neuroses, drags. Miss Bates yearned to wield some serious editing shears. The middle of the novel definitely needed some tightening up. Part of what redeemed the sagging middle were the scenes where Dev and Laura get to know each other. Both had good reason to be leery of love, but the palpably-rendered attraction, though tame by most romance novel standards, was nevertheless very effective, very believable. Dev and Laura have histories that make them love-skittish, but the sharing of their life stories over a pizza, or on a drive to investigate another lead on Darcy, help us know and care about them. The chapters we spend with Mark and the girls he entraps and his motivations for doing so, Miss Bates could have stood to read less of.
Miss Bates has been critical in the past regarding the “mildness” of the faith element in some inspirational fiction. Trapped is no exception to this and Miss Bates found herself yearning for a bit of Livingston Hill’s zeal and theological savvy! Thinking about Livingston Hill’s novel in light of Trapped, Miss Bates has pinpointed for herself part of what is discouraging about this “mildness:” maybe it’s not the quantity of the faith element, but the quality. What a lot of inspirational romance fiction lacks is gravitas. Not that faith ought to be portrayed as a dour thing … but the cavalier expression of the characters grates: witness Dev’s decision to pray when Laura’s life is in danger, “Maybe he should give prayer another shot.” As if he might try putting fresh fruit in his morning cereal, maybe he’ll like it?
And yet, in sentiment, there is much to like about this novel. Dev, Laura, even the feckless Darcy, are likeable and the reader grows to care about them, wishes them well. One of the signs of a strong romance novel for Miss Bates is that very thing: that she wish them well at story’s end. Certainly these characters are deserving of that. Some quite strong writing conveys these sentiments beautifully, even if the faith element is not a part of it. Dev and Laura, for example, are tainted by difficult romantic pasts; in Dev’s case, his past is tragic. Laura recognizes this and treats him with respect and love and patient kindness until he relinquishes his hurt. When he does, it is in the realization of ” … a future no longer tainted by the past. A future that held joy, not regret. A future that offered love instead of loneliness.” And that realization is beautifully rendered when it links Dev’s fragile new feelings for Laura with his childhood innocence, “In the glow of the candlelight, her blue eyes reminded him of the summer skies of his Minnesota youth … filled with wonder and welcome possibilities.”
And the strongest theme in the novel is one close to Miss Bates’s heart, the idea of second chances, the notions of forgiveness and redemption, an inspirational message that is worthy and finally adds at least a note of that gravitas she seeks ” … God doesn’t expect perfection. All He asks is that we learn from our mistakes and try to do better in the future. He forgives us far more easily that we often forgive ourselves. He also heals the brokenhearted and saves those whose spirit is crushed.” A lovely promise, a lovely sentiment. And reason enough to read Hannon’s inspirational thriller … which, you’ve been warned, dear reader, doesn’t stint on the Dexter-like shenanigans.
Miss Bates remains in search of the perfect inspirational balance of faith, love, and adventure. Hannon’s Trapped isn’t The One; there’s nothing groundbreaking about it. It is nevertheless entertaining, has sympathetic, adult (no puerile childish behaviours here) protagonists, and appealing sentiments; it is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease” Emma.
Trapped was released on Sept. 1st and is available in the usual places and formats.
Miss Bates is grateful to Revell/Baker Publishing for an ARE via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.
What of you, dear reader, what have you read lately that echoed an iconic film or novel? And, even more interesting to Miss Bates, what thrillers have kept you up? In retrospect, the Dutch The Vanishing (1988) was even more potently horrific than Silence. Miss Bates can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but if you do decide to watch it: firstly, you’ve been duly warned and, secondly, DON”T watch the terrible 1993 American re-make with Keifer Sutherland.