Eight years ago a serial kidnapper known as the Piper terrorized San Francisco. He successfully snatched child after child from the city’s wealthiest families, holding them until a ransom was paid. In every case, he collected the ransom and returned the child unharmed.
Until crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got involved, that is. Contacted by someone claiming to be the Piper, Fleetwood withheld information from the police and FBI, bent on chasing the story–and resulting book deal and fame. Only Fleetwood wasn’t really dealing with the Piper, merely a wannabe copycat.
What should have been simply a career embarrassment turned into a disaster, however, when the Piper killed the child he was holding at the time of Fleetwood’s spectacular blunder then disappeared without a trace. The resulting backlash from the public, his employer, police and FBI branded Fleetwood with a scarlet letter, though arguably no one was harder on him than he was on himself.
Now the Piper has returned, apparently up to his old games. Except, this time it’s about more than money. With the selection of one of Fleetwood’s own sons as the first target in his renewed career, the Piper serves notice that he’s come out of retirement for more than money–he’s back to collect his pound of flesh as well.
In Paying the Piper, author Simon Wood has crafted the ultimate page-turner. After all, what could possibly be more compelling than a man doing cat-and-mouse battle with a master villain, with the life of his son at stake? The pace is relentless, as is the Piper’s determination to exact revenge for what he sees as being Fleetwood’s fault that the Piper was “forced” to cross a line he never had before and kill. Neither Fleetwood nor the reader gets a second to rest, with Wood rocketing events along at breakneck pace toward a showdown and conclusion which, while craftily unfurled, is possible for the careful reader to potentially deduce.
On a deeper level, however, there are some very interesting character studies going on as well. Though on the one hand Fleetwood obviously wants his son back, on another level, one he almost can’t consciously control, he also sees the situation as a chance for redemption. As a result, he’s not content to sit back and do what the authorities request of him, instead choosing to insert himself into the case, often over their objections. Naturally, this leads to more than a few confrontations, especially with the FBI.
FBI agent Tom Sheils was involved in the first Piper investigation, and his absolute loathing and contempt for Fleetwood have simmered to the boiling over point in the eight years since the two last saw each other. As the new Piper investigation unfolds, Sheils is constantly forced to reconcile his feeling of disgust about Fleetwood’s past actions with the fact that in the current situation Fleetwood and his wife are the victims, and that a little boy’s life hangs in the balance.
All of which adds up to a book that strikes a nifty balance between popcorn action and something more substantive. If you’re looking for a fast-paced beach read, but one with a little depth, look no farther than Paying the Piper.