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“Count to Three” by T.R. Ragan (Thomas & Mercer)
T.R. Ragan’s alluring new thriller, “Count to Three,” centers around private investigator Dani Callahan after her daughter, Tinsley, went missing five years ago. Dani’s ex-husband Matthew accepts that Tinsley is dead and gone, but Dani won’t give up the hope that someday she’ll find their beloved Tinsley.
But Tinsley’s is only one of the three cases dominating Dani’s life right now. A lawyer is experiencing strange disturbances in her house — furniture moving, food missing from the fridge, clothes rearranged. And a teen girl named Ali Cross has gone missing. Police think she ran away, but a local kid swears up and down he saw her shoved into the back of a van.
Meanwhile, Dani’s young, rambunctious assistant, Quinn, doesn’t mind using uncouth and even irresponsible methods to make progress on their missing persons cases. On the five-year anniversary of Tinsley’s abduction, Quinn stirs the pot. Neither Quinn nor Dani could be ready for what that stirring dredges up from the muck.
“Count to Three” starts like a new-aged re-imagining of a hardboiled detective novel and quickly ups the ante when Ragan introduces chapters from the perspectives of Ali and her abductor. These chapters are as brutal and intriguing as episodes of “You,” allowing a grisly view into the unhinged life of a madman.
Ragan explores the thought processes of each character, chapter by paranoia-inducing chapter, through a third-person, limited omniscient perspective. “Count to Three” is a great novel for true crime and thriller lovers, so long as readers are willing to suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride.
Certain annoying quirks riddle the novel: lengthy descriptions of details and actions that have no bearing on the story; timeline issues that just don’t add up no matter which way you shake it; inferring something and then blatantly stating as though the reader can’t be trusted to understand; and a tendency toward the convenient for convenience’s sake.
Despite those issues, the story is captivating and the writing genuinely thrilling. Through an emphasis on the PI perspective in which every detail could be important, “Count to Three” keeps the suspense up and threatens that the tides could turn at any time.