Annie (12) and William (10) are mighty upset with her mother letting her new boyfriend stay overnight when they take his fishing vest to go fishing. They didn't know what they were going to witness when they eavesdrop on some strangers in the woods, when all of them draw a weapon and shot a man, when all of them chase them because their presence wasn't unnoticed.
They find shelter in a barn on one of the oldest, still existing ranches, owned by now loner Jess Rawlins. The kids know, one of the killer is one of their mother's many boyfriends and he's waiting for them at their home right now.
With nowhere to go they don't have a choice and desperately lay their fate into Jess Rawlins hands.
Unsure what to believe and what to do, but clearly seeing the far in two children's eyes, Jess decides to snoop around in town, maybe try to figure out what's going on and why the sheriff put all the investigation work into the hands of four retired ex-police officers from the LAPD.
At the same time a retired cop enters town searching for clues in an old file, the only one he hasn't been able to solve. The one that's nagging at him for years. The Santa Anita Racetrack - file.
Quite a fast paced, thoughtful thriller which I couldn't put down. The character of Jess Rawlins is such appealing and full of substance. I have to admit having trouble to imagine his real age with a son a little older than the kids mother. He's the kind of novel character everyone would wish the best and recognizes as a real hero in the book. One that sticks to you after closing the book.
I always welcome authors stepping out of series writing and this first stand alone novel by C. J. Box
is something every mystery/thriller reader will enjoy.