Seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows knows all about the Thief. She’s intimately familiar with his hunting methods: how he stalks and kills at random, how he disposes of his victims’ bodies in an abandoned mine in the deepest, most desolate part of a desert.
Now, for the first time, Nina has the chance to do something about the serial killer that no one else knows exists. With the help of her former best friend, Warren, she tracks the Thief two thousand miles, to his home turf—the deserts of New Mexico.
But the man she meets there seems nothing like the brutal sociopath with whom she’s had a disturbing connection her whole life. To anyone else, Dylan Shadwell is exactly what he appears to be: a young veteran committed to his girlfriend and her young daughter. As Nina spends more time with him, she begins to doubt the truth she once held as certain: Dylan Shadwell is the Thief. She even starts to wonder . . . what if there is no Thief?
(Synopsis via Goodreads.)
DNF at 64%.
Honestly, I just found this book underwhelming. Perhaps my boredom was mainly due to the curse of misplaced expectations: I pictured an antihero in the vein of Alex Craft, but what we get is an indecisive, somewhat timid, and blandly average teenage girl. You know, except for the serial killer whose mind she shares when dreaming.
Making matters worse is the introduction of Nina’s childhood friend/teenage drug dealer, Warren. The story is told from their alternating perspectives, even though Warren really doesn’t add much to the narrative. He has even less of a personality than Nina, and there’s absolutely zero chemistry between the two (though I assume they hook up by the end of the book).
He’s also the one who tries to rationalize Nina’s visions, leading to scene after tedious scene of self-doubt. This also gives rise to some weird plot stuff; for example, even though there’s never been any question in Nina’s mind that her connection to Dylan only goes one way, she sets up a series of tests to see if she can trick him into acknowledging her existence. Like, why though? They…don’t prove anything?
Anyway, the book isn’t terrible; I just couldn’t bring myself to care enough about anyone to finish it. I think if you shaved 100 pages off you’d have a much more tense and compelling psychological thriller.
Comments (May contain spoilers!)
Diversity: Nina is adopted; her mom is a lesbian:
Sixteen and something years ago in Arizona, Mom was dating Dory Biedenkopf, and it was Dory who wanted a baby. Dory worked with child services, and when she introduced Mom to me, ten months old, Mom fell in love with my “big bronze eyes that wouldn’t let go.” Lesbian couples couldn’t adopt, and Mom, with her lawyer job, looked the best on paper as a single parent. So Mom and Dory put off moving in together while my mom jumped through the state’s adoption hoops. It took long enough that they drifted apart, and Dory fell in love with somebody else. My mom and I moved to Vermont and lived happily ever after. Dory’s new girlfriend had three kids, and she lived happily ever after, too. They still have marathon phone convos a few times a year.
Nina began taking “uppers” to stay awake at night, since this is when she dreams of the Thief. When her mom found the drugs, she landed in rehab.
Nina’s bio dad killed himself while in prison for killing his brother-in-law, who he suspected of abusing his sister.
Animal-friendly elements: When the Gustafssons are reported missing (kidnapped, killed, dismembered, and buried by the Thief), the prevailing theory is that an animal rights activist did it. (To be fair, there are zero leads or suspects, leaving the police and media with nothing but fringe theories.) A worker was caught skinning a live and (presumably) fully conscious cow in the slaughterhouse that Mr. Gustafsson managed (though he was not implicated in the abuse). The incident comes up several times.
I show Nina the bookmarked articles one by one. Mrs. Gustafsson fostered Humane Society kittens. Mr. Gustafsson worked at a slaughterhouse, but his friends describe him as the kindest person they knew. One commenter speculates that an animal-rights group targeted him after a guy on his crew was arrested for skinning a calf alive, but Gustafsson himself wasn’t implicated in the cruelty.
I revisit the pre-disappearance article about the animal abuse scandal at Mr. Gustafsson’s slaughterhouse, which describes how he escorted some scruffy protestors off the property last fall. It seems far-fetched to say they targeted him, but who knows?
“Hey, Nina. Remember that animal-rights debate in Civ class last semester?”
She looks perplexed. “Yeah.”
“You talked about slaughterhouses—I remember. How they should be better regulated. When you were researching for that debate, did you ever happen to read about that case in New York, with the guy who flayed the calves?”
She shudders. “I read about a few cases like that.”
“Well, the one I’m thinking of happened at Mr. Gustafsson’s slaughterhouse.”
I go on impatiently, “Where he worked. Remember the news reports? The commenter with the conspiracy theory? Anyway, months before he went missing, there was an article about the abuse that mentioned Mr. Gustafsson. People were asking why he didn’t report it sooner. I’m just saying—maybe his name was already in your head. Maybe that’s why you thought he was in danger.”
She drops my hand and steps away. “You don’t believe me.”
When considering how she’s tried to cope with the Thief, Nina members a conversation she had with Warren, back when they were kids and still best friends:
One of the last conversations we had was about Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Warren asked if I remembered the scene where Pee-wee Herman saves the animals from a burning pet shop. He hates snakes, he’s not going to save the snakes, but at the last minute he dashes in and comes out draped in snakes, his face twisted with comic repulsion. “He doesn’t want to care about them, but he does,” Warren said. “That’s why Pee-wee is the perfect movie hero. He does the right thing even by reptiles.” […]
For a while, I thought the solution was to embrace the bad. To keep the good at a distance. […]
And then I realized I was feeling the same way Pee-wee did about the snakes. The same way Warren did about me. The same way the Thief did not feel about his victims. Whether I liked it or not, empathy weighed me down like a stone around my neck. Empathy for people and snakes and sometimes even for inanimate objects just because they were connected to people.
Nina has lunch with one of her mother’s friends at a vegan café: “drinking dairy-free lattes with dandelion extract.” (Is this a thing?)