Tue
Apr 29 2014 3:15pm

Fresh Meat: Desperate by Daniel Palmer

Desperate by Daniel Palmer is a standalone thriller about a couple, Gage and Anna, who invite a homeless, pregnant woman into their home in return for her baby (available April 29, 2014).

The only thing unusual about the bus stop was the crying woman sitting on the yellow-painted curb.

This is the opening of Daniel Palmer's fourth stand-alone thriller. He always has a strong beginning, to get you hooked and want to continue with his story. Within fifteen pages you learn about newlyweds Anna and Gage. Separate tragedies brought them together, and although some time has gone by, they are both still healing. Palmer shows you the raw emotions in Anna and Gage and the grief they are both still suffering through.  

Anna is desperate to adopt a child and become a mother again. Gage doesn’t know if he’s ready, but he wants Anna to be happy so he’s willing to go along with her plan. They’ve posted an online profile, done their resume of sorts, and are waiting to get picked by a pregnant woman, knowing it could take months or even years.

Then fate intervened that day at the bus stop. They met Lily, a young woman who is pregnant and alone, with nowhere to go. Anna is ready to go with her heart, but Gage is hesitant, feeling the need to visit his friend Brad, with whom he has an odd relationship. Brad has a special gift that he uses to communicate with the dead and Gage is drawn to Brad like a crack addict is drawn to his dealer.

“There’s something else Gage,” Brad said in a somber and concerned tone.

“Yeah?”

“I’m picking up on something else, a dark energy, something I haven’t ever sensed before.”

“Is it near Max? It is threatening him?”

Brad shook his head.

“No, no, I’m not explaining myself. This energy, this darkness, it felt terrestrial.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means it’s earthbound. It’s here in our world, not his. And Gage- whatever this energy is, it’s something very dark, a blackness I’ve never felt before. And it’s surrounding you.”

Lily shows up on their doorstep declaring that she wants Gage and Anna to adopt her child. The couple decides to move Lily into the upstairs vacant apartment in their double house, while they occupy the downstairs unit.

Little things start to happen; coincidences that Gage feels have more of a sinister tone. Anna thinks Gage‘s behavior is because he’s getting cold feet about the adoption, and this is driving a wedge between them. All the while, Anna and Lily are becoming fast friends and spending a lot of time together, making Gage feel like an outsider.

To make matters more tenuous, Gage’s big project at work had a major setback on its demonstration day and everyone is walking on pins and needles. He can’t escape from the tension of home and work life. Then there’s still the dark energy that Brad sensed, and Brad’s never been wrong.

Palmer has a way of making the reader part of his story. He is very adept at describing places in a way that makes me feel as if I am there with his characters.  I can see the old, tired neighborhood that Gage is in. A place that everyone has forgotten, even the residents:

The location itself wasn’t all too appealing, which could explain Nicky’s worn aesthetic. It wasn’t a ‘lock ‘em up” hood- as in, roll up the car windows and lock the doors- but it was close. Maybe there had been a time when this section of town was a city jewel, but I’m pretty sure prohibition was the law back then. The two-and three-family homes were nestled close together and not lovingly maintained. The lawns were the size of postage stamps, and several had more rusty junk than plants. Shades were drawn in most of the windows I could see. There was trash in the gutter, trash overflowing from the wastebaskets, and the street itself looked like it had gone fifteen rounds with Apollo Creed. The sickly hum of air conditioners could barely be heard above the rumbling noise of cars and buses.

Palmer also has a way of making his characters come to life on the page.  It is one thing I’ve enjoyed about this author’s writing and he has done this in his prior three books. You just don’t sense Gage’s stress and fear from his words and actions, you feel it yourself, dreading the next moment just as he does. You can also see, almost feel, Anna’s desperation. Palmer also gets the reader to invest in his characters; you like them and root for them, even if they’re doing something not quite above-board.

What initially felt like fate and their prayers being answered when they met Lily at that bus stop, now feels to Gage as if they opened their door to the devil.  When Lily’s ex-con boyfriend, the father of her child, shows up, Gage knows he has to get them out of his life, no matter what the cost. That proves impossible when Gage is blackmailed into helping Roy do something illegal, and during the act a man dies.  Gage is dragged deeper into a sinister plot and he is forced to do things he never would otherwise do, in order to save Anna and himself.

The end of the book is full of many twists and turns. In his usual fashion, Palmer gives the reader a big ah-ha moment and ties up many loose ends. I didn’t guess the ending and I was pleasantly surprised.

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Kim M. Hammond is an avid mystery reader and aspiring writer who hails from Cleveland, Ohio. She is on the National Board of the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention and also guest blogs at Mystery Playground.

Read all posts by Kim Hammond for Criminal Element.

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1 comment
Dorothy Hayes
1. DorothyHayes
The human interest aspect is compelling, and I can see myself reading furiously to see how it will turn out.
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