cover image Counterfeit Son

Counterfeit Son

Elaine Marie Alphin. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-15-202645-5

Cameron Miller's Pop locked him in the cellar while he beat to death the boys he kidnapped--more than 20 boys over the years and Cameron, too, has suffered at his father's hands. As this gripping novel opens, the police have finally raided his Tennessee home and fatally shot Pop. Cameron, seeing a chance at a normal life, decides to pass himself off as one of Pop's murder victims and claims he is Neil Lacey, missing for six years. Alphin (Tournament of Time) builds the pressure masterfully, describing Cameron's constant fear of being found out by the Laceys or the suspicious police detective. He chokes down Neil's favorite meals and fumbles for the answers to old family riddles, all the time observed by his hostile sister, who resents the effect that Neil's disappearance and rediscovery has had on their parents. The tensions accelerate to a fever pitch when Pop's accomplice Cougar shows up, threatening to unmask him if Cameron doesn't cooperate with Cougar's crimes. The author's treatment of each character's psychological wounds is also impressive, and she doesn't skirt the subject of DNA testing or other forensic refutation of Cameron's identity. Though Alphin races through the conflicts a little too quickly, she achieves a neat and happy ending; readers will be enthralled by her suspenseful plot. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)