How long does a crime victim remain a victim?
In Lisa Unger's gripping new psychological thriller, The Red Hunter, Zoey Drake is constantly reminded of her narrow escape from death 10 years ago by absence: Her devoted parents were murdered during a home invasion when she was a child, and she was left for dead.
Claudia Bishop is reminded every day of another crime by a presence. More than 15 years ago, she was raped by a stranger — and soon found she was pregnant. She and her husband had been trying for a baby, had been intimate the same day, and Claudia makes the difficult decision to bear the child. Her daughter, Raven, is both beloved and an inescapable reminder of the crime.
Unger, who lives on the beach in Pinellas County and is the author of more than a dozen bestselling novels, is a master of constructing tense plots that are driven by insight into her characters' minds. In The Red Hunter, she draws the reader in with the contrast between how the two main characters cope with the aftermath of their attacks.
Claudia's marriage crumbled under the weight of the trauma, although she's still close to her ex, Ayers, and he is an unquestioningly loving father to Raven. As the story begins, Claudia has left her longtime home in Manhattan to undertake a big project: renovating a ramshackle farmhouse she inherited.
Teenage Raven is less than thrilled at being exiled to the town of Lost Valley, N.J., but Claudia, who already has a measure of fame for a blog about her rape and its aftershocks, is now blogging about the reno — her glass always half full.
Zoey has taken a different tack. She has recently finished college but drifts through low-wage jobs, spending most of her time as a student and teacher at a martial arts school run by Mike Lopez, an ex-police officer and friend of her late father (who was also a cop). Her dad's stepbrother, Paul, another retired cop, raised Zoey after the murders, and she's still close to him.
But she doesn't tell either of them why she's so driven to hone her martial arts skills. Late at night, dressed anonymously in a hoodie and jeans, she prowls Manhattan streets alert for raised voices and menacing postures, dispatching bullies and creeps with well-placed kicks to their groins. Those are just dress rehearsals; what Zoey lives for, and is perhaps willing to die for, is revenge.
"What is the difference between justice and revenge?" Zoey asks. "Justice is a concept, one agreed upon by a civilized society. Revenge is wild and raw, it's a balancing of the scales of the universe."
At first, Unger seems to be telling two unrelated stories, moving from Zoey's point of view to Claudia's, and those of other characters as well, such as Josh Beckham, a handyman Claudia hires to help with the house repairs, and Raven, who is rattling her mother by insisting on having a DNA test to determine who her biological father is. (She's also, like many teenagers, up to other things that would freak her mother out if Claudia only knew about them.)
But connections are revealed, little by little, buried in the past but come back to dangerous life in the present by Claudia's move and Zoey's desire for vengeance.
Zoey knows who some of her parents' killers were, but others remain unidentified. Her pursuit of them may uncover painful secrets, as the ghosts who haunt her warn. Claudia will discover that her simple old farmhouse has a very complicated history, and some very nasty people play a part in its present.
Unger skillfully builds tension as Zoey's and Claudia's lives collide and they face the possibility of becoming victims yet again. Whether you're rooting for revenge or justice, The Red Hunter is a satisfying ride.
Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancro[email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.