Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Judge Scott Sampson doesn’t brag about having a perfect life, but the evidence is clear: A prestigious job. A beloved family. On an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, he is about to pick up his six-year-old twins to go swimming when his wife, Alison, texts him that she’ll get the kids from school instead.
It’s not until she gets home later that Scott realizes she doesn’t have the children. And she never sent the text. Then the phone rings, and every parent’s most chilling nightmare begins. A man has stolen Sam and Emma. A man who warns the judge to do exactly as he is told in a drug case he is about to rule on. If the judge fails to follow his instructions, the consequences for the children will be dire.
For Scott and Alison, the kidnapper’s call is only the beginning of a twisting, gut-churning ordeal of blackmail, deceit, and terror; a high-profile trial like none the judge or his wife has ever experienced.
This is a terrific five-star thriller with darkness, humour, and depth from a very talented author who's not yet that well-known to the broader reading public on the European side of the Atlantic.
Brad Parks is an award-winning writer from the United States (he's the only author to ever win the Lefty, Shamus, and Nero Awards), and is extremely well-regarded over there. But this standalone, which steps away from Parks' books starring investigative journalist Carter Ross, is being touted as something of a UK 'debut'. Regardless, it's a cracking great read. I tore through it in an afternoon.
Judge Scott Sampson has a good life, but that's completely upturned when his wife returns home without their six-year-old twins one day. It was the Judge's turn to pick them up, but he'd got a text from his wife Allison saying she'd do it. Only she didn't, and says she never sent the text.
So who did?
Parks drops readers straight into an emotional maelstrom as Judge Sampson becomes wedged between the worst version of a rock and a hard place: the kidnappers don't want money, but for him to do whatever they want when it comes to an upcoming trial. Only, they haven't specified which one.
Judge Sampson has committed his life to law and justice, but that's exactly what he'll have to betray in order to keep his children alive. He's isolated and almost alone, unable to call on his friends in law enforcement to help. As strange details start to emerge, he's not even sure if he can trust his wife.
Parks does a stellar job creating edge-of-the-seat tension, deliciously toying with readers as the pages spin. He leavens the darkness with moments of humour and a good sense for character and family life, so it's not unremittingly dark or dwelling in nastiness. SAY NOTHING is a finely crafted thriller that ticks boxes across the board, and is a great introduction to Parks for European readers.
I was soldered to my seat, fully engaged throughout. Parks not only entertains, but makes us care deeply for the Judge and his family, razoring our emotions as well as our curiosity. Terrific.
Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson