In mid-2017, I declared Erik Therme’s third novel, “Roam,” his best book to date. His fourth novel, “Keep Her Close,” is even better.
Therme, who lives in Iowa City, delivers a tight, suspenseful thriller about a young woman desperate to learn about her birth parents and the frantic search for her after she goes missing. The book’s cast of characters isn’t very big, but their conflicting motives and well-wrought back stories are convincing. Particularly vivid is Dan, the adoptive father with a temper and a host of regrets who will do anything to find his daughter.
“Keep Her Close” is also a well-paced book. Therme has always believed in consistently raising the stakes for his characters, a strategy that has given some of his previous work a headlong tempo that hasn’t served him well in all cases. In “Keep Her Close,” he gives the reader moments to breathe — particularly while fleshing out a character’s history — and effectively uses humor to break up the tone of the novel. He accomplishes this without lessening the tension he effectively creates.
The final act of the novel is, arguably, problematic in its casual use of a mental health diagnosis to explain some especially extreme behavior. It isn’t a necessary move, given that one of the recurring motifs of the book is the ways in which desperation, misplaced loyalty, love, and the like can influence behavior.
That quibble aside, “Keep Her Close” is yet another step forward for Therme, and readers should continue to keep a close eye on him.