“Ruin Falls” by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine, 368 pages, $26)
Liz Daniels, her husband, Paul, and their children, Ally, 6, and Reid, 8, are taking a road trip to visit Paul’s estranged parents in rural upstate New York. It is the children’s first trip and the first time the couple has been away from their small farm since their kids were born. At home, Paul, a professor at a small agricultural college, insists the family live as much off the grid as possible, rigidly following an organic way of farming, forbidding the children to have most snacks, including gum, and staying close to the house. Liz, especially, isn’t prepared for this trip. She sees danger and conspiracies at every turn – she’s sure that a truck following too closely or a mentally challenged bellman who doesn’t look anyone in the eye mean harm to her family.
Uncharacteristically, Paul suggests the family spend the night in a hotel and, even more unlike him, spring for a suite with the children using one room. The next morning, the children have vanished. While the police search the hotel and grounds, Paul also disappears.
In her second novel, Jenny Milchman delivers an intense family thriller that touches on all the hot-button fears of a parent while keeping the threat of violence on the periphery of the story. Although “Ruin Falls” lags a bit in the middle, Milchman’s strength in creating characters who grow and change keep the story on track.
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Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel