THE NIGHTMARE THIEF by Meg Gardiner

The Nightmare Thief
Meg Gardiner
Dutton
978-0-525-95221-3

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If you’ve ever wondered what else could go wrong, forensic psychologist Jo Beckett will get back to you just as soon as her cell phone picks up a signal. When she and pararescueman Gabe Quintana team up with a Hummer full of rich kids on a wilderness adventure gone over the edge, the question quickly becomes, who’s got the wheel?

The Nightmare Thief, Meg Gardiner’s fourth Jo Beckett thriller, takes a long skid into disaster, upending everybody, but everybody’s idea of a good time. Autumn Reiniger is turning twenty-one. Daddy wants his little rich girl to grow up fast and hard, so he orchestrates a weekend that will have her facing down a level of fear that leaves him clueless. Dane Haugen wants to leave him penniless, and Ruby Ratner—well, Ratner’s another breed of cowboy altogether. Quintana and Beckett, meanwhile, are minding their own business, trying to piece together the mental state of a dead man down a mine shaft, when they stumble into the bad cowboy’s midnight rodeo. Their investigation takes an unexpected tumble that turns up the roots of too many coincidences to allow anyone a good night’s sleep.

Least of all, the reader.

Gardiner’s got your escape routes covered. She has the night-vision, the stealth and the nerve to sneak up on you in plain sight, jack your adrenal glands and dangle your disbelief over a precipice of fear. You will unravel, almost casually, when Ratner lends his weight to that of the trigger-happy Von, a tagalong character whom Gardiner toys with mercilessly.

While her villains are never comedic, they are human enough to step on their own shoelaces. Haugen is the kind of clever and vindictive that stays just on the edge of cool in the face of one plan gone awry after another. Like his nemesis Peter Reiniger, he stumbles over his own poor choices, particularly in the human resources department. Ruby Ratner doesn’t have that problem. He just wants his slice of the pie, even though it’s not really about the pie; it’s the slicing he likes, and the pie tastes even better if it gets a little mangled.

That leaves Haugen’s cold-eyed sidekick, Sabine, a perfunctory sample of sugar-free eye candy without whom the novel would suffer not at all. It’s a minor complaint, but Sabine is the one dropped signal in a thriller that otherwise gets full bars from where I stand.

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