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Summary

You're woken early by the doorbell. It's a young girl, the daughter of the love of your life. She's scared, covered in blood, she says her mother is hurt.   

You let her in, try to calm her down, tell her you're going to get help. You reach for your phone, but it lights up with a notification before you touch it.  

It's an Amber Alert - a child has been abducted by a dangerous suspect. The child is the girl standing in front of you. 

The suspect? You.

©2019 Alex Knight (P)2019 Orion Publishing Group

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An exciting, terrifically entertaining thriller

Alex Knight lays out Hunted's fast-paced credentials in the opening pages of this addictive thriller; Jake Ellis is barely introduced to readers before Molly Donaldson turns up on his doorstep, distraught and covered in the blood of her mother, Rachel who she says has been shot. It would seem to be the most sensible place for her to run to - Jake is her mum's boyfriend and a San Francisco police officer - but then an Amber alert notification lights up his phone. Molly has been identified as an abducted child - and Jake is named as the suspect. It might seem obvious that the best course of action at this point would be to contact SFPD, explain that Molly is safe and is an eyewitness to what happened to Rachel. However, even before Molly arrived, Jake noticed something wasn't quite right with his laptop and as he realises he has been framed, he knows that to keep Molly safe until he can figure out who shot Rachel - and why - they have to run.
The tension is kept knife-edge sharp as we follow Jake and Molly's tense attempt to flee from a city where everybody has been alerted to look out for them, pursued by determined FBI agent, Catherine Lark. The narrative switches between hunter and hunted throughout and as the book progresses, more evidence appears to confirm Jake is a dangerous man. He is clearly a loner whose behaviour as a police officer has recently come under scrutiny and seeds of suspicion are cleverly planted as to whether Jake is quite as innocent as he so vociferously claims to the terrified Molly. Despite the doubts, I believed in him and thought Alex Knight negotiated the tricky balancing act of creating a character I wanted to root for, while understanding why others are so quick to condemn him, perfectly.
Meanwhile, although my natural instinct was to hope Ellis could evade capture, I couldn't help but warm to Agent Lark too. In a novel that hits the ground running like this one, there is no opportunity to get to know the characters first and it's through their responses to what occurs that gives us an insight into who they are. Lark is resolute but adaptable and I loved that this isn't a straightforward thriller which directs readers into hoping the innocent man escapes the obtuse detective. It's a more nuanced book that allows us to empathise with both protagonists. Molly is a beautifully drawn character too, her poignant vulnerability and guilt juxtaposing well with her bravery and determination.
The heart-pounding cat-and-mouse chapters are interspersed occasionally with transcripts from a true crime podcast. Chrissie Chung usually covers cases where the outcome is already known but when her phone pings with the amber alert about Molly, she immediately recognises it's an opportunity to capture the attention of the public. It would be easy to dislike Chrissie, she is after all, capitalising on an ongoing real-life tragedy but I thought these chapters were fascinating in the way they examine how people respond to crime. There is a clear appetite for true-crime shows, partly for the rubberneckers, of course but also because listeners genuinely want to feel they have solved a crime. Both the official and Chrissie's investigations attract time-wasters, and the podcast reveals information which should have been kept confidential. However, although Lark is understandably frustrated by what she sees as interference, she does have to acknowledge that perhaps any resource which encourages the public to come forward has a role to play in modern policing.
There's a cinematic feel to Hunted; the compelling action scenes are complemented by the excellent sense of place throughout which reflects the challenges not only of trying to evade identification but also just merely living in an increasingly gentrified - and thus more expensive - San Francisco. There is an atmospheric and interesting contrast between the densely populated city with its ever-present surveillance system and the smaller Californian communities too, exploring how they both present opportunities and pitfalls to Jake and Lark.
I listened to the audiobook of Hunted and thought the narration by Christopher Ragland captured the essence of the novel superbly. The pacing perfectly matched the rollercoaster storyline, ratcheting up the tension with each near-miss or new revelation, while each character's voice is clearly defined and suits their personalities. I suspect my walks to work were a better workout than usual as my pulse rate rocketed so often while listening to it! By the denouement, I could scarcely breathe; the compulsive, cleverly constructed storyline kept me guessing right up to the final page. Hunted is an exciting, terrifically entertaining thriller - I highly recommend it.