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NPR Arts & Life

Book Review: 'Descent' By Tim Johnson


The premise of "Descent," a new novel by Tim Johnston, is a familiar one. A teenaged girl disappears; her family agonizes over her fate. But reviewer Alan Cheuse says this is much more than your typical thriller.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Tim Johnston has written a book that makes "Gone Girl" seems gimmicky. It's a thriller plus. Caitlin is a high school senior from Wisconsin, a track star on vacation with her family when she's abducted by a stranger wearing yellow-tinged sunglasses, a psychopath with philosophical leanings. Her younger brother is also injured in the crime. The entire family suffers terribly as the search for Caitlin ensues, months go by and then a year. After that, it's Caitlin's father who still shadows the waning investigation, even as other things in the world, mainly his agonized son, pull at the coat sleeves of his attention. As Johnston describes it, (reading) in his chest were two hearts, two thudding fists. One heart beat with the memories of his daughter, and the other beat with the sight of his son, each the more furiously in the presence of the other.

The story, in its extension and breadth, has a similar effect on the reader, at least it did on me. The plot moves with steadiness. There's an active chance and then a powerful, unexpected twist. People want to believe in some plan or design, the criminal tells us, when all around them is the evidence that the whole world is nothing but dumb luck. Lucky for us, Tim Johnston is an excellent writer. You want to set this one down so you can take a breath and keep reading all at the same time.

SIEGEL: The book is "Descent" by Tim Johnston. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.