The simple premise of thriller writer Alex Lake’s latest crime novel is a great hook: Maggie, who was kidnapped twelve years ago has been kept locked in a secret room, raped and given birth to three children. The first two were taken from her on each of their third birthdays. Now, there are only seven days until the third birthday of her third son, Max. The imprisoned female captive story might not be wildly original, but the calendar countdown element creates instantaneous tension that maintains its grip throughout the novel.
There’s a balancing act at play between the seven day burning fuse and the necessary backstory of Maggie’s abduction. Lake plays with structure to achieve this; using flashback chapters to jump between timeframes and, later, crafting certain chapters around various key characters. Thankfully, the time jumps never become confusing and the reader is fed just enough exposition to help build up a clear picture of events before being returned to Maggie’s present scenario – crossing off makeshift calendar days and concocting escape schemes.
The characters are interesting enough. Maggie is depicted as both fragile and bold and the bond between her and her family is a key idea that is pointed out very obviously early on. As expected, kidnapper, Mr Best, is conveyed as an eccentric psychopath, manipulative enough to fool everyone in the town into believing he’s a misunderstood and lonely retired teacher. Maggie’s mother and father are painted as traditional, doting parents, distraught over their daughter’s disappearance, although Martin seems like a too perfect dream dad. The most interesting character, though, is brother James, who faces the greatest character arc, evolving from a bright teenager into an underachieving adult who ultimately turns to hard drugs to cope with the impact his sister’s disappearance has had on his sense of self and hope.
The writing style itself is straightforward and simplistic, fluent enough to focus solely on the plot rather than on any particularly beautiful prose or clever word craft – probably not what the target reader is looking for in this genre anyway.
All in all, Seven Days fulfils its brief. There is suspense from page one, the reader roots for the kidnapped girl and hates the villain, the plot is well-paced with page turning quality and although the slightly unbelievable outcome is predictable it is satisfying nonetheless. Seven Days is substance over style, but in this case, that’s what works.