What means the most in life to you, and how far would you be willing to go to attain or keep it? Those questions are at the core of author Ryan David Jahn’s The Dispatcher, the follow up to his CWA John Creasey Dagger winning Acts of Violence.
Ian Hunt is a police dispatcher in Bulls Mouth, Texas whose life pretty much fell apart seven years ago on the night Maggie, his seven-year-old daughter, was kidnapped from her own bed. His marriage limped along for a bit before finally calling it quits, and a distance grew between Hunt and his son, Maggie’s older brother who had been responsible for watching her on the night she was taken. Maggie was never found.
Four months after having Maggie officially declared dead and holding a funeral for her at his ex-wife’s insistence, Hunt is at work one evening when he gets a 911 call from a teenage girl pleading for help; she’s escaped from the people holding her captive and made it to a pay phone on the edge of town.
Just as Hunt realizes with a mixture of horror and elation that the girl on the other end of the phone is Maggie, the call is abruptly cut short as she’s snatched away from him again. Working with the brief description Maggie was able to give, Hunt begins a quest to find the kidnapper and get his daughter back at any cost, and god help anyone who gets in his way.
The Dispatcher is a book that’s not going to be for everyone. Despite that routine sounding setup – and the story itself is rather straightforward – Ryan David Jahn’s writing style is not nearly as routine or straightforward. Jahn propels the story along via frequent changes in the point of view from which the story is being told, with Hunt, Maggie, the kidnapper, and one of Hunt’s fellow officers all getting opportunities to advance the narrative. For some that will work as a way to keep things lively, but others may find it somewhat disruptive as you never really get to settle in with one character.
Additionally, The Dispatcher contains several scenes of extremely graphic violence, including a very methodical interrogation/torture episode that is most decidedly not for the faint of heart or those with a weak stomach. Again, this may not bother some and, in fact, there will probably be readers who will not only understand but sympathize with the extremes to which a parent is willing to go in order to rescue and protect their child. Where Jahn tries to make things morally and emotionally interesting is in the backstory behind the kidnapper’s motive, which reveals he’s acting out of a desire to make his family whole again after he and his wife lost their infant daughter. [That’s not a spoiler.] Of course there’s no way this story can end well for everyone, but Jahn leaves his ending just ambiguous enough to either make you hopeful for the future or leave you frustrated at the lack of closure.
Bottom line, The Dispatcher is a traditional story of kidnapping and revenge with a somewhat nontraditional, and ultra-violent, style of presentation. Your personal preferences with regard to those factors will be the ultimate arbitrator of whether The Dispatcher works for you or not.
The Dispatcher is available from MacMillan (ISBN: 978-0230746848).
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