Trapped Inside a Beautiful Mind
(nb: I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley)
Noah is twelve years old, and he wants to be a spy. He has the makings of a good one, too: sharp mind, eye for detail, incredible courage. Noah’s aunt Olivia is an FBI agent and his idol, and eventually, he wants to solve cases like she does.
One Christmas Eve, Olivia comes over for Christmas Eve dinner. She’s been out in the Colorado woods, working with her tracking dog, Beulah. Olivia found a backpack hidden beneath a bush, and she brought the backpack up to Noah’s room, just to visit while she went through the contents. She named off the items, asking Noah if they meant anything to him.
The items did mean something to Noah. In fact, Noah solved the mystery right then. He just couldn’t explain it to Aunt Liv.
You see, Noah was born with severe cerebral palsy. Mostly, Noah can only communicate with smiles or grunts. He can laugh and he can cry, as we all can. He just can’t talk. He can’t explain to Olivia the significance of the math book and permission slip she found in the backpack.
FBI Special Agent Olivia Bergen didn’t have time to stick around. The son of a high profile multimillionaire and his estranged supermodel wife has been kidnapped, and orders came down from the top that Olivia—three months out of FBI Training at Quantico, VA—has been requested to take lead on the case.
Little Max had gotten on his flight in New York, accompanied by an airline employee escort. He’d made it as far as Denver International, but didn’t board the connection to LAX. Normally in these situations, suspicions turned toward the parents—was the kidnapping a ploy in their acrimonious divorce?
In this case, too, there was something dicey about the airline employee escorting little Max. If neither the parents nor the escort were behind the kidnapping, then all the FBI had to do was figure out which of the untold thousands of strangers walking through Denver International absconded with the five-year-old boy.
And Noah was acting strange. Could he possibly know something about this case the FBI and Denver PD hadn’t yet figured out?
“Noah’s Rainy Day” weaves together a number of plot threads, and does so very well. We follow Olivia as she works the case. The tense interviews and frustrating lack of clues have her team’s nerves frazzled. We also follow the kidnapper on his well-planned rounds. Most importantly, we get inside Noah’s head.
Noah talks repeatedly about his ability to turn himself invisible, meaning that people see his gnarled body and inability to talk, and just ignore him as they would a potted plant. Noah’s handicap isn’t understanding; it’s communicating. Through Noah’s narratives, we hear how frustrating this is for him.
Author Sandra Brannan intertwines these narratives beautifully. As readers, our frustration is that we know who committed the crime early in the book, but we can’t tell Olivia. This frustrated the hell out of me. I kept wanting to yell into the book, “NO!! You need to look HERE!”
The brilliance of this authorial tack is that we feel exactly what Noah feels: we have information, but no way to get it to the right people. It would have been easier, perhaps, for Ms. Brannan to write this as a straight FBI procedural. The choice she made of adding Noah’s thoughts, and how helpless it made him feel being incommunicado, draws the reader deeper into the story. It was easy to understand how tough it was for the law enforcement officers to be chasing their tails—to those of us who read the mystery/thriller genre that’s old hat. Having us empathize with Noah was brilliant, in that it hooked us even deeper into the novel. Now, because we and Noah were in the same position, we became invested.
“Noah’s Rainy Day” is a joy to read. Olivia and her extended family are full of love and warmth, and there’s a strong camaraderie among the task force. In the end, both are necessary to solve the case, and if Noah proves nothing else, it’s that he’d be one hell of a spy.