By Brad Parks
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. Their marriage falters. Suspicions and long-buried jealousies rise to the surface. Fractures appear. Lies are told.
Through it all, Scott and Alison will stop at nothing to get their children back, no matter the cost to themselves . . . or to each other.
Scott Sampson is held in high esteem as a judge and is well-liked in his working life. He is a family man, he dotes on his twins, Emma and Sam, and on his wife, Alison. For the past four years, they have lived in secluded farm house alongside the York river. You could say his life is pretty much perfect. That is until one day he finds out his children have been kidnapped.
This book was full of secrets and little twists so that every time I thought I knew who was behind the kidnapping something would come along and make me question everything I thought I knew.
“Their first move against us was so small, such an infinitesimal blip against the blaring background noise of life, I didn’t register it as anything significant.
It came in the form of a text from my wife, Alison, and it arrived on my phone at 3.28 one Wednesday afternoon:
Hey sorry forgot to tell you kids have Dr appointment this pm. Picking them up soon”,
Judge Sampson is disappointed because he normally takes his 6 -year- old twins, swimming on a Wednesday afternoon.
“I looked forward to it in the same way I cherished all the weekly rites that had come to define our family’s little universe. Friday for example, was Board Game appaloosa. Sunday was Pancake Day. Monday was Hats and Dancing, which involved, well, dancing. With hats on…I have come to believe a good routine is the bedrock of a happy family, and therefore a happy marriage, and therefore a happy life.”
His devotion to his family is clear to the reader from the beginning and his life seems idyllic.
“So I would have told you, all things considered, I had it pretty damn good, with two healthy kids, my loving wife, my challenging – but -rewarding job, my happy routine.
Or at least that’s what I would have said until 5.52pm that Wednesday.
That’s when Alison arrived home.
At first Scott doesn’t realise what is happening, but then when Alison has no idea where the kids are either he knows something is wrong.
I suddenly know what it must be like to sit on a beach when all the water mysteriously rushes away, as happens just before a tsunami. You simply can’t imagine the size of the things that’s about to hit you.
Shortly after Alison arrives home the kidnappers call and inform him that if he wants to see either of his children again he needs to rule the way they want in an upcoming drug sentencing: United States VS Skavron
‘You will not go to the police,’ the voice continued. ‘You will not approach the FBI. You will not notify the authorities in any way. Your children remaining alive and unharmed depends on you going about your business as if nothing is wrong. You will do nothing. You will say nothing. Do you understand?...If we even suspect you’ve spoken to the authorities, we’ll start chopping off fingers. If we know for a fact you have, we’ll do ears and noses.”
Immediately after the kidnapper hangs up Scott starts thinking about contacting the police but Alison is adamant that they shouldn’t.
‘What do you want to do? Test them to see if they’re really serious? They’re serious okay? We have to assume they’re out in the woods.’ – She pointed in the direction of the approximately ten acres of forest between our house and the road – ‘and the moment they see a cop car, marked or unmarked, they’re going to start carving. I don’t want pieces of my children sent to me in the mail.”
Immediately the impact on Scott and Alison’s marriage is clear as they fail to comfort each other and each retreat to separate areas of the house.
“I thought of Sam. Brave, lovely Sam. Alison and I have done our best to eschew gender stereotypes in how we raised our children. Yet Sam is still one hundred per cent boy. There’s a certain amount of energy he simply has to expend each day. And if he doesn’t? Woe to all furniture, walls and human beings in his path. Sometimes in the late afternoon, when his rambunctiousness is about to overwhelm all of us, we’ll send him to run laps around the house.
Then I thought of Emma. Sweet, thoughtful Emma. She also has her share of energy, except she expresses it emotionally, rather than physically. She is incredibly perceptive. If Alison and I have a loud conversation – even if we aren’t disagreeing about something, just talking boisterously – she’ll go ask us to stop fighting. One the rare occasions I’ve had to reprimand her, I had learned to do so gently, beginning with assurances that I loved her endlessly and forever. Otherwise, one cross look could make her burst into tears and end all hope of discourse.”
As suspicions form over who orchestrated the kidnapping, old jealousies arise and Scott and Alison begin to keep secrets from each other.
I really wanted to include more thoughts on the book but I don’t want to include any spoilers. Suffice to say that you will need tissues for the ending.
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