Descent by Tim Johnston
Published by Algonquin Books
Publication date: January 6, 2015
All her life 18-year-old Caitlin has been a runner. It is who she is and in running she moves in a world of her heart, her blood, her muscles—all working in sync to do what she loves to do. How then could something at the core of her being that brings her such joy lead her into a nightmare? Because if she hadn’t insisted on going running in the early morning in the Rocky Mountains, a place she doesn’t know at all, she wouldn’t be in this situation. Worse, her brother wouldn’t be lying next to his bicycle with a smashed leg in the forest. Now, only Sean will be found, unconscious on an isolated road, and Caitlin is gone. These are the events that lure the reader into Tim Johnston’s slow burn thriller, Descent.
After Caitlin’s disappearance her parents, Grant and Angela, rally around Sean, both out of concern for him and in the hopes that he has some knowledge that will lead to Caitlin’s recovery. When that is not the case, their already fragile marriage splinters apart. Angela takes Sean home to Wisconsin and Grant stays to help with the search efforts and because he cannot make himself leave.
As the years pass, Johnston cycles through each family member’s life showing how the event and the part each believes they played in it irrevocably changes their world. In the same way that Caitlin is cut loose from their family Grant, Angela, and Sean are adrift in their lives and from each other. Diving deep into these characters could make for too much plot, but Johnston manages it in a way that enhances the overall story and reinforces the impact of losing Caitlin.
Unlike other thrillers Johnston adopts a quiet, less-is-more approach to Descent. After the opening pages, Caitlin doesn’t speak again until the novel’s last quarter and even then, it is without the easy-out of graphic details. He generates more fear with what he doesn’t say than could be done with the minute details of this kind of kidnapping. All of it works to ratchet up the tension so that by the end of Descent you can count reading as cardio, because your heart will be pounding.
On Wednesday I review Tim Johnston’s new novel, The Current. Is it another slow burn thriller that I can’t put down? We’ll see!