Hunting the Hunter

The Missing
by Shiloh Walker
(Berkley, $14, R) ISBN 978-0-425-22438-0
Taige Branch has had visions since childhood. Growing up with her hellfire-and-damnation uncle after the death of her parents kept her from expressing it or getting help with the trauma of her psychic ability - she sees what is happening to people who have disappeared and has an affinity for children. There are very few people in her life, and oddly enough, weekender Cullen Morgan seems to understand her better than anybody.

For most of her life, Taige has avoided contact with people; not only do they think she's a freak, but she often absorbs their thoughts and pasts. With Cullen, she doesn't have any of these problems. Over several summers, they develop a lasting relationship - or so she thinks. Then Cullen's mother is brutally murdered, and Cullen holds it against Taige that she didn't foresee it.

Twelve years after their searing break-up, Cullen reappears in Taige's life. Now a trained psychic working freelance for a specialized FBI unit, Taige's experience with recovering missing children has increased tenfold. His daughter has been kidnapped, and Taige knows immediately that it's by a serial killer. What they discover along the way is even more troubling - that the killer is targeting gifted children, and has been for decades.

From the beginning, readers will assume that Jilly's rescue will be the climax of the book. When she is recovered fairly quickly, it will feel a bit like a let-down. Since the romance in The Missing is fairly subtle, the fear will creep in that the rest of the book will be about Taige and Cullen reuniting. It is, to a certain extent, but it's primarily about Taige and Cullen coming together to chase down the killer, whose identity, when she discovers it, will throw her into yet another tailspin.

It must be said that I'm a sucker for reunion stories.Cullen and Taige are two intriguing characters who are so different they complement one another wonderfully. Though both of their viewpoints are clearly shown and both characters are entirely involved in the book, they remain enigmatic. That may be detrimental in some cases, but Walker pulls it off brilliantly; it fully supports the entire vibe of the novel.

The killer may or may not surprise readers, but one way or the other is no big surprise. The Missing isn't all that high in applied suspense, although the tension between Cullen and Taige and the hard years behind them adds a definite edge. Walker certainly has a future in paranormal and/or romantic suspense, and no doubt once she gets the suspense aspect down, her books will rate five hearts.

--Sarrah Knight

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