Before It’s Too late
FBI K-9, Book #2
By Sara Driscoll
Author Website: saradriscollauthor(.)com
In this powerful K-9 crime thriller, FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her trusted search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, must race against the clock before a diabolical killer strikes again…
Somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, a woman lies helpless in a box. Beneath the earth. Barely breathing. Buried alive. In Quantico, the FBI receives a coded message from the woman’s abductor. He wants to play a game with them: decipher the clues, find the grave, save the girl. The FBI’s top cryptanalysts crack the code and Special Agent Meg Jennings and her K-9 partner, Hawk, scramble to the scene of the crime. Cryptic clues lead them astray and by the time they solve the puzzle, it’s too late. But the killer’s game is far from over . . .
Soon another message arrives. Another victim is taken, and the deadly pattern is repeated–again and again. Each kidnapping triggers another desperate race against time, each with the possibility of another senseless death. That’s when Meg decides to try something drastic. Break the Bureau’s protocol. Bring in her brilliant sister, Cara, a genius at word games, to decipher the kidnapper’s twisted clues. Meg knows she’s risking her career to do it, but she’s determined not to let one more person die under her and Hawk’s watch. If the plan fails, it could bite them in the end. And if it leads to the killer, it could bury them forever . . .(Goodreads)
In this not-to-be-missed follow up to Lone Wolf, the fierce FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and K-9 partner Hawk are sent out with fellow agents and their K-9’s to locate a woman who has been abducted. The kidnapper left a note written in code, addressed to Meg, on the ex-Marine’s service dog that must be decoded before they can find and rescue the woman. Simply decoding the note isn’t enough, as the location is a separate riddle to be solved. By the time they find her, they were were less than half an hour too late. Then a second note is received, also on a service dog found without its owner two days earlier but those who found the dog didn’t see the tucked-away note earlier. That woman is barely alive; Meg and Brian perform CPR until the EMT’s arrive. It is uncertain if that woman will live. The note, again, is addressed to Meg.
It is the frustration of loss of life, and striving to do better next time, that drives Meg to do what goes against FBI regs: her sister Cara is a genius at solving word games, so she shares the first notes with her to see if it is a code her sister would be able to understand and solve. If it saves a life before the bad guy is caught, isn’t it worth it?
The note is in a code developed in the 16th century, yet is no match for Cara, who could decode it faster than the FBI computers. Part of the reason is that its key is a unique word. In this case, each of the notes has a keyword that is specific to Meg. The killer is targeting Meg, but why…and, as Brian and Meg noticed with the first and second victim, the bad guy is targeting women who look like Meg and killing her, over and over again. The women are black Irish with dark hair and blue eyes. Meg’s sister, Cara, is similar in appearance, so she is at great risk.
Meg has worked in the past with Clay McCord, an investigative reporter for the Washington Post. He was helpful in catching the bad guy in her last big case. Clay has been bringing his puppy to Cara’s obedience classes, so they are in regular contact. Meg makes the same deal as before – Clay prints nothing during the case and gets an exclusive when it is solved. As a historian, he is the only other person to help solve the clues. He and Cara do a perfect job when the next woman is abducted, and she is found on time. They now have a pattern to the code and the riddles, but when Meg risks telling her boss about her helpers, things don’t go well. Which is not good, as the next abduction put Meg and Hawk to the ultimate test.
Meg and her sister are described very well, their relationship and interests shown through their actions and conversations. While the characters themselves are not as central to the story as the abductions, seeing how Meg puts together clues and works with Hawk and her human partners and their K-9’s is essential. We learn just enough about each person to see them with regards to their roles. Meg, Cara, and Clay’s brilliance in interpreting clues makes them a great human team; Meg and Hawk together are a force to be reckoned with.
Wow! This remarkable novel with explosive scenes reflecting frustration, grief, possibly hope, and fury at the abductor is written with excellence. To me, watching them work out the code is fascinating, especially how Cara can solve them faster than the computer. I also appreciate the authenticity of the historic locations. It is fast-paced, capturing my attention in the beginning and almost impossible to put down from there. Plot twists, and how the bad guy is finally identified through the help of FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, are stunning. The scenes of trying to find each victim are intense, coming to an explosive conclusion at the ultimate location for the bad guy’s goals. I highly recommend this edge-of-the-seat thriller to those who enjoy suspense with K-9’s and their human partners and “clean read” thrillers with hours of suspense and satisfying conclusions. I am looking forward to the next in series!
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*