The children had never been this far from home before. Liv had spent most of yesterday driving around, hunting for no-mess Crayola coloring books, praying they weren't too juvenile to keep a six- and eight-year-old occupied in the car, then running up and down the supermarket aisles in search of bars and snack pouches in case they couldn't find food on the road. Or in case they did find something, and Paul wouldn't allow the kids to eat it.
Liv Daniels and her family leave on holiday for the first time in years on a trip to see her husband's parents. When they stop for the night in a hotel, everything seems to be going well. But when Liv wakes up the next morning, she finds her two children missing. The police are called and a search begins, but it soon becomes apparent that the person responsible may be closer than Liv thinks...
Ruin Falls showed up in a Most Anticipated Books column on one of my go-to blogs, and the atmospheric cover caught my attention. The blurb seemed to promise a tense thriller so I added it to my To Be Read list. When it showed up on Netgalley I requested it and was pleasantly surprised when it was accepted - one of the first ARCs I asked for and received! I decided to wait until shortly before the release date to read it and devoured it in a single day. Ruin Falls is a thriller novel done right and I loved it!
Set over a two week period, Ruin Falls tells the story of Liv Daniels. A mother, wife and business owner, she shares a farm with her professor husband and two children. Following her husband's eco-friendly lifestyle, they avoid consumer culture as much as possible. Leaving on vacation, Liv's world is torn apart by the disappearance of her children. But it is the identity of the kidnapper that really sends Liv reeling as she is forced to reexamine everything she thought she knew and every belief she held dear in the light of a horrendous betrayal.
I don't think I will give away any major spoilers if I reveal that the kidnapper is Liv's husband, Paul. The reveal itself happens very early in the novel, an the true mystery is not who took the children but why and where he has taken them. The fact that Paul is the one to be behind the abduction allows Milchman to play around with the standard kidnapping storyline as the police relegate it to a domestic dispute, leaving Liv alone to try and recover her children.
Milchman does a fantastic job of creating tension - right from the first page we are dragged into Liv's frame of mind as more and more events ramp up her feeling that something is wrong. Even before we discover the kidnapping, Liv is stressed, convinced that something is wrong or about to happen. From an agressive truck driver to her son disappearing in a crowd, Liv is constantly on tenderhooks and so is the reader.
Having your children taken is any parent's ultimate nightmare and Milchman does a fantastic job of portraying that in Ruin Falls. That is made even worse by the aforementioned fact that the police will not do anything because the father is the one who has taken them. Liv's feeling of helplessness fills the pages and it is great to see her slowly gain the confidence she needs to save her children. She really develops through the course of the novel, and I loved the fact that despite the presence of a male character who assists her, at the end Liv is totally alone when it comes time to face the true villain of the piece.
Of the supporting characters, most are well developed, though unfortunately Paul comes across as a bit of a cipher whose aims and motivations are left quite fuzzy. His parents are much more interesting characters, and the truth about his past is done in a very nice way, keeping you guessing and putting together the various pieces all the way through. I would have liked there to be a little more closure to his storyline, though what does happen to him is definitely well deserved.
As I mentioned above, the conclusion is worthy of the build-up, pitting Liv against everything she has feared and forcing her to stand up and fight for her children. The book ends with a hopeful twist, though one that remains bittersweet when you consider the implications of everything that has happened.
Ruin Falls does not break any major ground when it comes to this kind of family-in-danger thriller, but it does do what it set out to extremely well. Edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting tension from the first page to the last, it is not the kind of book that I found myself laying aside without a tug of reluctance, wanting to read a little bit more to find out what would happen next or how a situation would resolve. The mystery was well done and did not ever feel drawn out, and the conclusion was worthy of everything that had been set up until then. I felt for and related to Liv and the other characters. At its heart, Ruin Falls is about motherhood and the lengths any of us (mothers or fathers) go to protect our children (although I have to admit that Dads do not come out of this one particularly well!) I will definitely be adding Jenny Milchman to my Must-Read List. I gave Ruin Falls 4 shoemaking psychopaths out of 5.
Ruin Falls will be released on April 22nd.
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From the Blogosphere:
A Garden Carried in the Pocket
From the Author's Mouth:
Interview carried out by fellow author Cynthia Lott