The new novel from Toronto-born thriller writer Hilary Davidson starts with a bang: “When he heard the gunshot, Alex Traynor threw himself face first onto the pavement.” While this incident turns out to be Traynor once again “betrayed by his own brain” – a child blowing up snap’n pops on the sidewalk taps into Traynor’s PTSD resulting from experiences as a photojournalist in war zones – it sets the tone for a book in which nothing is quite as it appears and Traynor is, in fact, in the crosshairs.
Traynor has been on NYPD Detective Sheryn Sterling’s radar since the suspicious death of his friend, Cori, more than a year before. While Cori’s death – a fall from the roof of Traynor’s building – was ruled a suicide, Sterling is convinced Trayor was involved somehow. When Traynor’s fiancée, Emily, disappears (and Traynor doesn’t report her missing), Sterling sets out to prove that Traynor is responsible.
One Small Sacrifice, the first in a new series and Davidson’s fifth novel, won’t win any prizes for its prose. The novel’s style is explanation-heavy, leaving little room for nuance or subtlety and largely abandoning subtext in favour of lines like, “He’d come close to being put away in jail a couple of times, but he’d always managed to wriggle off the hook at the last minute.” The dialogue takes a similar approach, lapsing perilously close to self-parody at times: “You see a lot of crazy doing this job. But balls-to-the-wall diabolical evil is not something you encounter every day.”
For most readers, concerns about the prose will largely fade into the background as the plot begins to take shape and the narrative shifts between Sterling’s investigation and Traynor’s attempts to clear himself in the matter of Cori’s death and find Emily before it’s too late. Davidson’s plotting is tight and complex, a slow build of twists and reversals that keeps characters and readers guessing until the final pages. The resolution is well supported and natural, while simultaneously surprising. One Small Sacrifice succeeds as an effective thriller, almost despite itself.