There are two major themes running parallel in this novel. One is about serious abuse by a parent, and the other is about serious sexual abuse, of women and of minors. At the hands of authority figures, minors are often confused about what is acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior. Women are often overpowered by men who go unpunished for their behavior. Irresponsible, reprehensible parenting often goes unnoticed or unreported. Ultimately, all abuse has serious consequences for its victims. Hopefully, there will also be serious consequences for the perpetrators of such heinous and criminal behavior. There is a third more subtle theme about illegal immigration and the plight of the families.
On one side of the equation is a child who has been seriously abused and totally neglected by his father. He was kept locked in a basement for six years. Although someone had to have known something evil was going on in his house, no one spoke up to encourage an investigation which would have stopped the child from being tormented and destroyed. He grew up hoping to be set free, wanting to escape from his prison of darkness in the basement; he grew up angry; he grew up severely damaged. He grew up very disturbed, mentally and stunted physically. His childhood memories haunted him. He learned to live in both the world of the present and the world of his past with detrimental consequences. His childhood self was in control of his evil behavior. He enjoyed experiencing the fear of others because it helped consume his own. He lived a secret life. Who witnessed his torment? Why did they keep silent?
On the other side of the equation we have Ben. He and his wife Rachel have shared custody of their only child, Emma. They were once high school sweethearts. Ben had been a star swimmer as a high school student, but not a star son. His father had died when he was thrown from a horse while they were both out riding. Although he was only a young child, Ben felt responsible. When his mom remarried, he did not get along with his stepfather. He threw himself into swimming, and his high school swim coach became his mentor and father figure. However, his experiences during those teenage formative years led Ben to want to escape, and he altered the course of his life when he gave up swimming. He continued to suffer mental anguish from his memories. He harbored secrets that he was too ashamed to share with anyone. What happened to Ben? Was anyone aware of his teenage suffering? If so, why did they remain silent?
While the abused child lived in the shadows after he was freed from his basement hell, Ben chose to live in the public eye as a decorated police officer. When his quiet California neighborhood was terrorized by a serial killer on the loose, Ben was called in to investigate it. With the Medical Examiner, Natasha, who had her own secrets, he discovered clues that could lead him not only to the serial killer, but also to face his memories that have haunted his subconscious since his teenage years. The story is mostly about these two men. One turns to murder, the other to fighting crime. One turns to madness, the other tries hard to remain sane. Both men suffer from their personal ordeals, both are haunted by their memories or should I say nightmares.
The author does a good job of getting inside the heads of the tormented and the tormentors. I thought that some parts of the story seemed to parallel the sadism often found in Stephen King novels. The author seriously proved the point that how you are treated really affects how you turn out. Cowards do not face their problems and confront them. Brave people do face them and deal with them. They do not turn a blind eye to evil, hoping someone else will address it. They deal with it even when it means they must face humiliation and shame to correct it. They do what they must to prevent others from suffering the same ill gotten fate. Secrets create problems that cannot be resolved. Adults must be the examples.
The narrator portrayed each character well. The reader feels the tension created and anticipates the action that is coming at them, sustaining their continued interest.