Riveting. Emotional. Heart-breaking. An edge-of-your-seat, stay-up-way-too-late thriller are just a few ways to describe T.R. Ragan’s Count to Three. It has been a very long time since a thriller has kept me up past midnight because I could not put it down. It was worth the three or four hours of sleep I missed.
Dani Callahan is so excited to hear everything about her daughter Tinsley’s first day of kindergarten. A flat tire makes her a few minutes late. Those few minutes change Dani’s life forever. When she gets to the school, Tinsley is no longer there.
Her never-ending search for Tinsley leads Dani to become a private investigator. She uses all she has learned in her search for Tinsley to help other families find loved ones and have the closure she never got. No matter how much time passes, Dani refuses to give up the search for Tinsley, even after an inmate confesses to Tinsley’s murder.
Quinn is Dani’s assistant. She is dealing with her own feelings of loss after her mother abandoned her and her father when Quinn was only a teen. Shortly after, Quinn’s father was diagnosed with cancer and died, leaving Quinn with only her grandmother. Quinn became obsessed with following missing persons cases while she tried to understand why her mother left her.
When Ali Cross is abducted in broad daylight, the police want to believe she is a runaway. She ran away once before, and she and her mother did have a big fight that morning before Ali left for school. Nonetheless, Alli’s mom and sister refuse to believe that Ali ran away.
When twelve-year-old Ethan comes forward and tells the police that he saw Ali getting abducted. They find absolutely no evidence of what Ethan says he saw. Ethan has had his own troubles in the past, and the police are reluctant to believe him. That’s when he decides to hire Dani to help find Ali.
The search for Ali leads Dani and Quinn to one dead end after another. At the same time, more questions arise about what really happened to Tinsley. Despite Ali’s ex-husband’s insistence that she stop searching for Tinsley, Dani will not give up.
The more Ethan thinks about the abduction, the more he begins to remember details about what he saw. To say “the devil is in the details” would be an understatement. Ali’s abductor is the devil. The absolute horrors he imposes on Ali are unimaginable. There are times she wishes he would go ahead and kill her to stop the torture and mind games. All the while, he is telling her how much he loves her and how happy they are going to be. She tries her best to play along in the hope he will not find a reason to punish her again before she can figure out how to get away. Bars on the windows, multiple locks that require keys on the doors, and a shock collar that sends excruciating pain through Ali’s body when she gets too close to an exit make it difficult to hold on to hope.
Count to Three is more than just a thriller about an abduction. It is about a mother’s eternal love and never-ending search for her daughter. This is also a story about a girl abandoned by her mother, losing her father, and the pain and guilt that follows. In addition, the author shows the evolution of a troubled child and how the right influences can change his life for the better just because they believe in him.
Twelve-year-old Ethan reminded me a great deal of Mark Sway from John Grisham’s The Client. Ethan knows what he saw, and he refuses to give up on finding Ali. The only thing he sees when he thinks of Ali is the look in her eyes as she was being shoved into the back of the white cargo van. He is haunted by what he saw and feels it is his fault she was taken. He froze and did nothing to stop her abductor.
T.R. Ragan delivers a thriller about every parent’s worst nightmare. The reader cannot help but ache for Dani, Quinn, Ethan, Ali’s mother and sister, and especially Ali. The atrocities described in Count to Three are gut-wrenching and at times difficult to read. The twist the story takes in the end brings a whole new meaning to “shock and awe.” Any reader who enjoys thrillers should add Count to Three to his or her library.