The Disappearance

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Synopsis

On a soft summer night, she vanishes. With her friends sleeping nearby. With her parents’ wealth and power guarding her. Someone walks into the bedroom of her Montecito home and takes fourteen-year-old Emma Lancaster away. That is the first crime. A frantic search begins. Eight days later, abduction becomes murder. Police hunt for Emma Lancaster’s killer. A year later, they make an arrest. With an outraged town crying out for blood, powerful media tycoon Doug Lancaster vows to see his daughter’s accused murderer convicted and put to death. One man stands in his way. He believes that the rush to judgment in itself is a crime. Once a hard-driving, take-no-prisoners Santa Barbara D.A., Luke Garrison sent a defendant to the death chamber – only to discover he was innocent. The last thing he needs is to come back to a place crawling with memories and bad dreams. But there’s something strange about the Emma Lancaster case – too many loose ends that don’t add up. Although his instincts tell him to leave it alone, Luke is determined to get at the truth. If he plays it right, it could give him back his life. If he’s wrong, he could die. And a killer could walk.

Reviews

“J. F. Freedman is one of the top writers of legal thrillers, renowned for his sizzling one-sitting page turners. His current novel is incredibly chilling as the gifted writer builds up the suspense surrounding THE DISAPPEARANCE and subsequent murder of a teenage girl…The crisp story line is filled with pathos and grit as fans will believe that this novel is the legal thriller of the season, if not the year.”
- Vicki’s Mysteries

“Completely engrossing…You won’t want to put this book down for a second.”
—Detroit News and Free Press

“Plenty of twists and turns in this portrait of corruption and evil in a small town.”
—Chicago Tribune

“A page-burner!”
—Publishers Weekly

“Filled with pathos and grit…top entertainment.”
—Midwest Book Review

“Powerful…gripping…surprising.”
—Publishers Weekly

“You won’t want to put this book down for a second.”
—New York Law Journal

“Chilling.”
—Detroit Free Press

Freedman keeps readers turning pages deep into the night. From Lesley Dunlap – The Mystery Reader.com I have enjoyed other J. F. Freedman books including Against the Wind and Key Witness. His plots are well-crafted, the suspense is taut, and he gets the legal details right….One of the author’s trademarks is that his heroes are flawed and difficult to like….In spite of a slow beginning, once the story gets going it is impossible to put down. Fans of legal thrillers will want to check out The Disappearance.
—Entertainment Weekly

Freedman (Key Witness, Dutton, 1997) has written another legal thriller, this time chronicling the disappearance and murder of the 14-year-old daughter of a wealthy Santa Barbara family. Luke Garrison is the unbelievable hero, a former district attorney who abandoned the legal system when he found himself a party to injustice. Now Luke has been persuaded to come back and defend the accused murderer. But he finds himself opposing all of his old colleagues, who have mixed emotions about his return. The case is an enigma, too. The facts don’t add up, and there’s evidence of child sexual abuse and adultery in this prominent family. Luke is able to demonstrate that he’s still at the top of his game, and, with a little help from his friends, he solves the case. The novel reads very quickly, although it begins to feel very long and overly dramatic during the trial scenes.
—Library Journal

After forays into the coming-of-age (The Obstacle Course) and PI (House of Smoke) genres, Freedman seems to have settled back, with last year’s Key Witness and this new novel, into the sort of rambunctious legal thriller that made his reputation with his debut, Against the Wind. That book has been his high water mark, critically and commercially, and his new novel is unlikely to match it, despite a powerful premise, exciting plotting both in and out of the courtroom and Freedman’s usual muscular prose. The opening here is immensely gripping: a teenage girl is apparently kidnapped from her Santa Barbara, Calif., bedroom during a slumber party, her wealthy family deals with the devastation of her disappearance, her body is found and, a year later, a hotshot TV newscaster is arrested for the killing. Freedman handles this sensitive material—obviously inspired by the real-life kidnap-slaying of Polly Klass—freshly and with appropriate gravity. He takes a turn toward the routine, however, when he introduces his hero, attorney Luke Garrison, whose very contrariness—he’s a former DA who has fled to the woods in shame over a past failure, who rides a hog and sports a goatee and a ruby stud in his ear—makes him just one more dashing antihero. Luke agrees to defend the newscaster, plunging himself and his hot-blooded girlfriend/assistant into an adrenalized investigation and trial full of false leads, twists and brushes with death, all of which Freedman handles skillfully, other than pointing a blatant finger at the dead girl’s father as the real culprit. So the ultimate unmasking of the killer comes as no big surprise, although Freedman’s lurid handling of it is surprising—and, some might say, exploitative, as this talented writer turns what begins as a worthy re-imagining of a brutal tragedy into a histrionic page-burner. Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club and Mystery Guild selections.
—Publishers Weekly

After forays into the coming-of-age (The Obstacle Course) and PI (House of Smoke) genres, Freedman seems to have settled back, with last year’s Key Witness and this new novel, into the sort of rambunctious legal thriller that made his reputation with his debut, Against the Wind. That book has been his high water mark, critically and commercially, and his new novel is unlikely to match it, despite a powerful premise, exciting plotting both in and out of the courtroom and Freedman’s usual muscular prose. The opening here is immensely gripping: a teenage girl is apparently kidnapped from her Santa Barbara, Calif., bedroom during a slumber party, her wealthy family deals with the devastation of her disappearance, her body is found and, a year later, a hotshot TV newscaster is arrested for the killing. Freedman handles this sensitive material—obviously inspired by the real-life kidnap-slaying of Polly Klass—freshly and with appropriate gravity. He takes a turn toward the routine, however, when he introduces his hero, attorney Luke Garrison, whose very contrariness—he’s a former DA who has fled to the woods in shame over a past failure, who rides a hog and sports a goatee and a ruby stud in his ear—makes him just one more dashing antihero. Luke agrees to defend the newscaster, plunging himself and his hot-blooded girlfriend/assistant into an adrenalized investigation and trial full of false leads, twists and brushes with death, all of which Freedman handles skillfully, other than pointing a blatant finger at the dead girl’s father as the real culprit. So the ultimate unmasking of the killer comes as no big surprise, although Freedman’s lurid handling of it is surprising—and, some might say, exploitative, as this talented writer turns what begins as a worthy re-imagining of a brutal tragedy into a histrionic page-burner. Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club and Mystery Guild selections.
—Kirkus

Excerpt

book excerpt