Run To Me, Diane Hester
Rating: 5 Stars
Publisher: Random House Australia
Length: 384 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
A taut, edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller.
First of all, I have taken great pains to be as careful as I can not to give away too much but there will be some give and spoilers. It’s hard to write a review this length without giving some things away. Bear this in mind before you read the review.
Run to Me starts in a strong manner and continues at a sharp pace until the very last page. I’m serious when I say that this book is a veritable rollercoaster ride with no stops.
When the book opens Shyler is walking her 5 year old son, Jesse, home from soccer. As they cross a bridge they are ambushed by a small gang of teens who demand money from Shyler. When she hands them her purse she only has five dollars. One of the them grabs Jesse, hanging him over the edge of the bridge telling her they want more, she offers then whatever they want, but a car startles them. Frightened they run off and the one holding Jesse doesn’t know what to do –
“Raising her hands, a calming gesture, inching forward. ‘Please be careful. Don’t…’ He let go and ran. She sprang to the rail, the moment imprinting itself like a scar. Silken hair sliding between her fingers. The terrified scream she would never stop hearing.“
The book fast forwards two years. This time the initial focus is on Zack, ten, Reece, seven, and Corey, five. Three unrelated children living with neglectful and dysfunctional foster parents, the Leary’s. Zack is trying to organise food for the younger two who are frightened by the prospect of eating Ritz crackers, all that’s in the house, and the perceived reaction by Frank Leary to them actually eating what he considers his food. Zack is also admonishing the younger two for having followed him to a warehouse he frequents to find goods to pilfer to make some money so they can actually eat. Zach, at ten years of age, parents the two younger boys who look up to him. While he’s convincing Reece and Corey to eat two social workers turn up, persuading an untrusting Zack to let them in; after seeing their ID he agrees. They assure the three boys that the system has ‘failed them’ in the past but not anymore, show general concern for their bruises, and tell the three boys that they will find ‘better living arrangements’ for them, ‘together,’ something Zack’s heard on numerous other occasions. When the Leary’s arrive home they are told there have been complaints and they need to sign forms releasing the boys into their care otherwise charges will be forthcoming. All seems like it may be better, they end up at a safe house, have clothes and baths awaiting, but Zach is feeling bad about another house, another set of smells –
Zack looked around. Another strange house. How he hated this feeling. He’d been in so many these last three years. Smells were the worst. Even when they weren’t bad they were creepy and somehow they always brought on his dreams.
Long story short, Zack discovers the ‘social workers’ aren’t who they say they are, and the ‘safe-house’ is, in fact, very unsafe. The ‘social workers,’ Vanessa and ‘Westgate’ (aka Nolan) and their associate, Tragg, have spotted the boys at the warehouse and believe that they have seen/know something that could lead to the whereabouts of a suitcase and property that they want very badly for a person named Lazaro. The three boys all have a common thread – nobody cares about them, they serve a purpose, and can be discarded with no concern. Besides, Zack’s heard their names and he knows the name of the leader of the organisation –
‘He was listening to you. Little shit heard everything you said….’
Tragg turned his rage on the pair. ‘Two fuckwits using a name they shouldn’t have!’
Zack isn’t staying around. He knows what will happen if they don’t escape. He’ll think of something to get them out of the hands of these people and then he’ll do what he always does, take care of them all somehow. They do end up escaping as they are being driven from one location to another. Once free, they hop in the back of a truck leaving a nearby truck stop, and end up in a small town in Maine. But the antagonists are not easily shaken, and they have the details of the truck. They want the information and they need the boys, particularly Zack as the oldest. My heart was in my mouth as I read about the boy’s escape, what Zack did to try to keep them together juxtaposed against the antagonist’s complete lack of concern for three little boys and the fear, hunger and cold they were exposed to all while Vanessa and Nolan stayed in warm cabins with food.
Meanwhile, the book brings Shyler back into the picture. She has moved from New Hampshire to a small town in Maine, living in a cabin she inherited from her father. She carves wood and keeps to herself. She lives off the beaten track in amongst forest and no one knows her. She uses her carvings to barter for food and supplies. Tourists buy them at the local general store and she uses the credit on her trips to the store. Shyler is isolated, children send her into a fugue state, and she has constant nightmares. As the book progresses you learn more and more about her and her plight.
Next we meet Dr Chase Hadley. Chase is three weeks into his newly acquired medical practice in small-town northern Maine and meets Shyler when she comes in to have a wound seen to. She used to barter with his predecessor, Dr Muir, and once Dr Hadley sees her work he agrees, it doesn’t hurt that she’s easy on the eye. He’s worried about her minimalist speech, her agitation, her general demeanour. He also discovers that she has no address on file. Chase becomes somewhat….protective about Shyler and sets about finding out who she is. No one in town knows exactly where she lives or anything else about her; only her family used to visit there 20 years ago –
‘Who are you hiding from. Shyler O’Neil? Everyone or someone in particular?’
The book moves between several different camps – the antagonists on the ground in Maine, Vanessa and Nolan, and the antagonist elsewhere, Tragg. The protagonists – Shyler, Zack and the boys, and Dr Chase Hadley. And it’s done in such a seamless manner. You have intimate knowledge of all the players in the book and I was so invested in them all – hated Vanessa, Nolan and Tragg with a passion. Cared deeply for the others.
The book is intensely multi-layered –
By character –
Shyler – my heart ached for her, a woman with PTSD who, it seems, no-one cares about, or believes – the police could not seem to find any supporting evidence for what Shyler claimed happened to her son, to her, on that bridge in New Hampshire. Her husband has left her, it appears people she once knew seem to feel she may have, at best, been distracted, at worst, thrown her son off a bridge. In the parts of the book when she is with Zack, she believes him to be Jesse and has moments of deeply dissociative behaviour. Yet having said all of this she is incredibly strong. As unwell as she is, she outwits some very bad people, leads them through the wilds of Maine, and she is unbelievably protective of ‘Jesse.’ So what is true, and who is right?
Vanessa – is one of the main antagonists who is front and centre throughout. She is trying to exceed the ‘lowly’ expectations of being a woman in her uncle’s very male dominated crime organisation. She is fit, can shoot, track, kill and put her feelings aside like the best of them. Irrespective of whether that means using and killing three little boys to break through her crime world’s glass ceiling. An interesting concept…and character, I loathed her as much if not more than her accomplices, the ignorant Nolan and the sociopath Tragg. But she certainly threw herself into her…work.
The boys – I just wanted to wrap them up, feed them, protect them, help them, particularly Zack who had the weight of the world on his young little shoulders. It’s all kinds of devastating to be thrown out by a mother who likes her latest boyfriend more than her child. Then to have her die and any hopes of her love coming back dying with her. He is old before his years. But still only ten. Having feelings he shouldn’t, propping people up he needn’t, being so distrusting so young, needing to think on his feet, and calm people…
Dr Chase Hadley – is this incredibly caring, gentle, kind and naïve man, who wants to help. It doesn’t hurt that Shyler is attractive, but she is high maintenance, in a psychological way, yet he is there for her, going above and beyond to find out about her. Find out what it is that makes her so afraid, so hyper-aware, so secretive. He also helps her in her hour of greatest need and puts himself at risk, for not only Shyler but Zach as well. People he doesn’t particularly know. The world needs more Chase Hadley’s – smart, uncomplicated, innocent, yet holding the courage of one’s own convictions at the same time.
By psychology/relationship –
The psychology of Shyler was sound. Yes, PTSD is exactly what she would be suffering, irrespective of whether her son died at the hands of others or because she was distracted for a moment in the life of a five year old. Her five year son who died in a river while she was there. It was correct, subtle yet strong in its use and development, and I liked the sensitive way it was handled. Being with Zack would exponentially ramp it up – which I won’t discuss as it would spoil the book. The thoughts and reactions of Zach were very, very real. Having lived through so much he was street smart, but still a little boy at heart and in his psychology of reasoning. A young boy who hurt deeply and blamed himself for his mother’s poor choices, for being a ‘bad boy’ when angry because of a foster system that constantly failed him. The way every house had a ‘smell.‘ It’s true. When you’re young, you’re brain is developing. When you’re dealing with dysfunction on top of it all it is so incredibly hard going through/living at many houses that may be your next home or your next disaster. You strip it down to things that are basic but are memory and trigger intense – sight, sound, smell.
The relationship that developed between Shyler and Zachary was incredible. Yes, Shyler was unwell and believed Zack to be Jesse. Oh, how Zachary wanted the love to be for him. And yet it would make him feel angry because he didn’t need it, wasn’t a baby. He lapped up the love and caring that she showed, no matter how he tried not to, he’d never known anything like it –
She lifted her gaze. Crying and laughing she swept her hands over his face as though to confirm her eye’s weren’t deceiving her. ‘My precious boy. You’re really here.’ Zack gazed into her upturned face. Even if it had been a product of insanity, her courage had made her a hero in his eyes. If she needed so desperately for him to be Jesse, then how could he not? He cleared his throat. ‘Yeah, Mom. I’m here.’
‘Even crazy Shyler’s the best mom there ever was.’
Run to Me is superbly crafted and edited. Maine came alive to me whilst reading – the woods, the town. The characters all fully realised and three dimensional. Even though there are several different perspectives it flowed perfectly and the interweaving of characters and situations was effortless. It did not slow down. From the minute it began there was always something happening to someone – Shyler and her son. Zack, Reece and Corey. Shyler in Maine. And, once their paths crossed, Shyler and Zack, then Chase, Shyler and Zack. For me the best way of describing this book is a taught psychological thriller. One that had me white-knuckling it many times throughout. There is also a basic romantic interest, of sorts, with Chase attracted to, caring deeply for Shyler, believing in her. But it isn’t a romance book. I believed in Shyler as well, but for a while I wasn’t sure what had happened to her son because she was unsure….except the teenagers – who she had nicknamed in relation to the bridge incident – dogged her life, her thoughts, her nightmares. I did not know how Run to Me would progress. Just how dark it would get, who would live, who would die, and how. And I needed to know! I needed to get to the end because it literally didn’t stop until the very end. It kept me on my toes throughout. Then when it was over I thought some more about the characters. They left their mark on me. This is a novel by a very talented author. I cannot recommend Run to Me highly enough. It is due for release in March 2013 and if this book sounds remotely like something you might be interested in grab yourself a copy as soon as you can. A stellar debut novel.
This book was supplied by Random House Australia through NetGalley in return for an honest review.