In a small California town, two good-for-nothing brothers and their creepy sidekick shoot a minimart owner during a botched robbery attempt and then escape to a pricey house in a gated community. Their hostages: 10-year-old Thomas Smith, his 16-year-old sister, Jennifer, and their dad, Walter, a stay-at-home accountant whose biggest client just happens to be the Mob. Oops. Enter local police chief Jeff Talley, who’s also on the lam. (A former SWAT negotiator in big, bad L.A., he fled his job, wife, and daughter after another standoff went south two years before.) Sure, the characters are as sketchy as those in the inevitable film version will be. But Crais holds you captive with his fast-paced plot, a shaggy-dog story with more wrinkles than a shar-pei.