The Prison Guard’s Son by Trace Conger

The Prison Guard’s Son by Trace Conger

‘Just like dumpster diving, the dirtiest methods often yield the best results.’

Thirty years ago, in a small West Virginia town, two nine-year-old boys kidnapped and murdered four-year-old Josh Baker.  The boys, Jacob Vance and Raymond Turner, were quickly arrested, tried and convicted.  And, after eight years in a juvenile detention facility, they were released and given new identities.

Josh Baker’s father, Willie, hires Finn Harding to find his son’s killers.  Willie believes that his son’s killers have been placed in witness protection, but he wants to find them.

‘Those two have to pay the real price for what they did to Josh’.

Finn Harding has a dilemma.  He no longer has his PI licence and works underground.  While work is falling into his lap at the moment, it’s never easy to turn down a paying job.  Willie Baker only wants Finn to find the killers, but Finn knows that that won’t be an end to it.  Still, after reviewing the information that Willie Baker gives him, and visiting Josh Baker’s grave, he takes the job on.

Finn Harding’s search is not easy. Still, he’s nothing if not resourceful and after some false starts he makes progress.  Along the way he clashes with US Deputy Marshal Valerie Cheatham, and finds that he is not the only one searching for the killers.

Two aspects make this novel particularly interesting.  The first is the detail provided of the techniques used by Finn Harding to try to find the killers.  The second is the moral ambiguity of a number of the characters.  Is it possible that either of the killers can redeem themselves by having made a positive contribution to the community since their release?

I read this novel during a four-hour long train journey last month.  It held my attention from beginning to end.  I assume that it was at least in part inspired by the brutal murder of two-year-old Jamie Bulger in the UK in 1993. This is the third of Trace Conger’s novels featuring Finn Harding.  I enjoyed the first (‘The Shadow Broker’) but somehow missed the second (‘Scar Tissue’).  I’ll be looking to address that as soon as I can.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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