Tag Archives: Thriller

THE LAST FLIGHT

“. . .very few people actually stop to consider how difficult it is to truly vanish. The level of detail needed to eliminate even the tiniest trace. Because there’s always something. A small thread, a seed of truth, a mistake. It only takes a tiny pinprick of circumstance to unravel it all.”    (Prologue, The Last Flight)

It all begins in the present. In the JFK Airport Departure Area, two pensive women are waiting for flights to a place they do not want to go.  Women with secrets that could cost them their lives.

Claire Cook is terrified. She has crossed the Rubicon. Her marriage to Rory Cook, her charming, rich, and handsome husband, the heir to one of America’s political royalty, is a sham. Behind closed doors, she is a victim of physical and mental abuse. It has taken years of sly preparation, but today, she was to have arrived in Detroit for a charity event as Mrs. Rory Cook. After collecting her getaway package, sent in advance to the hotel in Detroit, she would have disappeared under an assumed name leading a new life.

At the last minute, her husband, without telling Claire, flies to the Detroit charity event himself. Claire is instructed by a staff member that she is to replace her husband at an event in Puerto Rico. Frantically she calls the Detroit hotel hoping to intercept her package before he arrives. A clerk tells her she has already handed the package to her husband. He knows. And he will make her pay for endangering his political ambitions with this scandal.

Eva Marie James has been in NYC visiting an old neighbor from California but she now must return to Berkley.  Eva, a former chemistry student at UC Berkley, leads a lonely and complex life. What began as a one-time choice to help a student by creating an illegal drug has led to a life in the underbelly of illegal drug distribution. It has been a lucrative life for her, but a deadly and dangerous endeavor, and now she wants out. Unless she can find a way to disappear, her only way out is feet first in a pine box.

In the throng of passengers heading to their departure gates, she overhears Claire Cook’s frantic call to a friend for help now that her husband knows she is leaving him. Eva sees a way out that could benefit Claire and herself. Carefully. Cautiously. Eve draws physically then mentally close to Claire. She spins a heart rendering yarn about a husband recently deceased from cancer. She can’t face walking back into her home and all those painful memories. She guides Claire to making a decision that could save both of them. “Do you think it’s possible for someone to disappear? Vanish without a trace?”

Claire takes the bait. They exchange everything; trading lives. Claire boards the plane to California becoming what she believes to be a distraught widow. Eva has what she needs most – a new identity. The seat on Vista Air, Flight 477 to San Juan. Puerto Rico, just a stepping stone to a new life.  Money not an issue. She established an untraceable offshore account years ago.

Six hours later, Claire’s flight arrives in California. She senses something big has happened.  A nearby TV monitor shows the wreckage of an airplane. The headline reads – Vista Air, Flight 477 has crashed into the ocean shortly after take-off. She is seized with the thought,  “I should have been on that flight but sent a young woman to her death in my place!” By exchanging identities with Eva, Claire has gone from becoming a missing wife to a world famous victim of a tragedy. Her face and her life story will be seen on televisions around the world.

Things from this point get very interesting. Claire digs into Eva’s purse for her house keys and it doesn’t take long after opening that front door to learn that she has been bamboozled. There was no sick husband. What was Eva running from?  Has she, now masquerading as Eva, stepped into a bigger minefield?

The suspense heightens as the story follows Claire in the present and her new life as Eva. Eva’s story begins in the past leading up to the identity exchange in the JFK airport. The novel masterfully keeps the unknown just out of reach. Tickle and tease the reader; think you have figured things out. Wrong. Somehow the two storylines complement each other; the pages turn faster and faster.

I am going admit that I read the book some time ago. When I started to reread the book to refresh my memory, I devoured it from start to finish again. There have been psychological thrillers that have scared me to death. This is not one. This thriller will have you gaining respect for each protagonist. How many of us have been trapped by circumstance? What would you do? Looking for a beach read this summer? Pick up a copy! The ending is very satisfying! No spoilers!

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THE RETURN

PUBLISHER’S BLURB – excerpt

An edgy and haunting debut novel about a group of friends who reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance. Julie is missing, and the missing don’t often return.

Everyone has seen a gaggle of girlfriends. A clique formed at an early age traveling through life attached to one another like an extra appendage. The Return features four girlfriends, now in their late twenties and separated by geography but never by bond: Julie, Elise, Molly and Mae. This  foursome has always been bifurcated by personality. Julie and Elise; Molly and Mae.

Julie gets the harebrained idea to go backpacking, alone and inexperienced, in the Acadia National Park and soon learns she’s bit off more than she can chew. She becomes lost and after a futile search by rescue teams is declared dead a year later. Her memorial service brings the three remaining members of the clique together. Elise can’t bring herself to believe Julie is dead. Julie has always pulled a disappearing act only to reappear when she feels like it. Molly and Mae mourn Julie’s death while Elise holds out hope she will see Julie again.

Two years to the day she disappeared, Julie is found sitting on her front porch. She is wearing the clothes she disappeared in and claiming to have no memory of the events of the past two years. Mae, the wealthiest of the group, arranges a get-away to a remote and bizarrely designed hotel to welcome Julie back into the fold and reunite the clique.

The trio gathers in the hotel awaiting Julie’s arrival and speculate if she has changed over the past two years. Suddenly there is a loud knock on the door. The beautiful Julie is now standing before them emaciated. Her skin hangs slack and waxy. Her teeth, once perfect, are now chipped and discolored. Her once beautiful green eyes appear jaundiced. Her lush curly hair is now thin, stringy and greasy. When she speaks, her breath smells like roadkill. The four girls head down to the hotel restaurant acting as if she hasn’t changed. It’s just a little lost memory, they say. Julie smiles and acts as though she doesn’t see the side glances and the behind-her-back murmurs. Even when the life-long advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle, stuns the others when she order a rare steak and eats with her hands, they say nothing.

The next morning, the old Julie with the bouncy curls and fashion model skin arrives for breakfast. And still no one asks what is going on with her. And she offers no explanation. The days pass. The atmosphere in the hotel is changing. The staff acts spooked. There are sounds in the walls. The thermostat in Elise’s room seems possessed always resetting itself to freezing. Some days Julie appears bedraggled. Oher days she seems infused with instant health. Still no one mentions it.

And quoting Forrest Gump. That’s all I got to say about that.

What I liked:

  • A debut author with a novel approach to an age-old theme of spooky hotels and strange happenings.
  • The behind the scenes descriptions of the hotel evoked intense sensations. I had a physical reaction, my stomach turned over, as we entered each hotel room and learned of its decor.
  • Julie’s physical changes were striking without being overly graphic.
  • The characters were genuine. I hated them. Can’t think of a time I could stand a bunch of loud, hard-drinking, entitled girls acting like the world owned them a favor while at the same time being needy, in-secure and desperate for friendship.
  • Although the first half of the book was so boring with repetitive groveling dialogue, I did find myself very engaged as the tension rose. The author has great promise and I would be interested in her next book.

What I didn’t like:

  • All the baggage each girl was carrying around inside and hearing about it over and over and over. There never was any growth in their characters. They were stuck in a time warp of their youth.
  • The second half of the story was super-charged and just as you expected a super nova ending, it ended like a slow leaky tire leaving the reader wondering -what just happened?

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A Solitude of Wolverines: a suspense fiction

Don’t go down to the woods tonight–who knows what you will find?
Something might be stalking you, and crawl right up behind
You might feel a cold, cold breath on your pretty neck
You’ll say that you ain’t scared… you’ll turn around to check…
Your eyes go wide, your knees go weak, you won’t know what to do
Don’t go down to the woods tonight–I wouldn’t if I were you!

–  performed by The Hellblinki Sextet

Fans of Nevada Barr and her hard-core National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon meet Alice Henderson’s “badass” wildlife biologist named Alex Carter. Like Nevada Barr, herself a former Park Ranger, Alice Henderson, an author of a science fiction series and suspense novels, is an experienced wildlife researcher. Her previous works include the dystopian series, The Skyfire Saga.

A Solitude of Wolverines (October 27, 2020) is her first book in a new suspense series and is set in Montana, high up in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. Alex Carter, an audacious female wildlife biologist, faces head-on, all types of wild creatures and dangers- wild, exotic, and human.

We meet Alex struggling with why she made the concession to put her boyfriend’s needs above her own  and move to the big city. Brad’s high-flying big city career has made him a demanding narcissist. Alex pines for a return to her life working in nature. Her achievements in conservation in the city haven’t met all her needs. While Alex is dealing with her failing relationship, she attends a conservation award ceremony and is nearly killed by a rabid anti-conservationist shooter. Rattled to her core, she jumps at the chance to leave the city to takeover a wolverine study in the Rocky Mountains wilderness of Montana.

The book excels in revealing Alex’s affinity for the natural world. As a woodsy woman, I found myself sharing time with Alex to the whispering wind in the trees, the sounds of creatures carrying on their daily lives, the joy of discovery of what lies just over the hill or a spotlighted wildflower captured in a sudden moment of shifting sunlight.  I also remember, like Alex, the unnatural sounds of impending danger, a sound out of synchrony with the normal harmony of the wilderness – a low threatening snort, the slithering in the grass too close for comfort, or the sense of being observed or stalked.

Most of the residents of the fictional town of Bitterroot, like other cloistered towns, disdain outlanders.  The recent creation of the Land Trust for Wildlife Conservation has everyone’s dander up. The land, the site of an abandoned large-scale ski resort, had been openly used by the locals to graze livestock and hunt game. The land is now off-limits. The ban is observed by some and abused by others.

After settling into the old ski lodge, Alex takes a deep breath and looks out the bedroom window reflecting on her trip to town the day before. She had used the old truck to pick up supplies in town and had been nearly forced off the road by a reckless driver. She became startled by finding a man placing a note under the windshield wipers of the truck. Now what?

You are not welcome here.
Leave while you can.

Our girl hitches up her gear and heads out to set up camera traps looking for wolverines. She will not be scared from her completing her mission. She is grateful for her childhood trips with her mother learning wilderness survival skills. And it won’t hurt that she has martial arts training.

As you head out into the mountainous wilderness with her, don’t lose track of your will to live. Forget your phone. There is no service. When you find yourself in danger, it is just you against  the unknown. And there are plenty of those things that go bump in the night.

I rated the book a solid 4 stars. The information about wolverines and information about endangered species was fascinating and informative. The suspense scenes were captivating. The exacting descriptions of her equipment and research skills was very interesting. I was pleased to see that our new heroine could take on the big guys – go girl!  The book wasn’t perfect. As a first book in a series, it felt mired down at times establishing the character. And let’s just say, her boy friend, Brad seemed distracting and unnecessary and phone calls to her best friend interrupted the tension from time to time.  Looking forward to the next book!

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THE PASSENGERS : a novel


London (CNN) Driverless cars will be on UK roads by 2021, says government.
Wed, February 6, 2019, (Lianne Kolirin)
The new technology is a step closer after UK ministers announced plans to move forward on advanced trials for automated vehicles… The new regulations seek to ensure that anyone trialing driverless cars must publish safety information, trial performance reports and carry out risks assessments…

The CNN excerpt is for real.
The Passengers by John Marrs, set in the “not-too-distant” future, is fiction. The nomenclature has changed – there are no longer drivers, they have become passengers. Fasten your seat-belts. This thriller will have you spinning pages.

The government’s propaganda campaign has been successful. Automated vehicles are 100% safe. Gone are the steering wheel, accelerator, and brake pedal as well as the ability to override the AI system to take control of the vehicle. Sit back, watch TV, take a nap – all that is required of the passenger is a destination.

In the rare instance of an accident, the vehicle’s black box is retrieved and reviewed by a Vehicle Inquest Jury comprised of government authorities and one token civilian jurist selected at random. The jury process, more a symbolic gesture to appease the general population, is believed to be unnecessary as the vehicles are incapable of errors or the AI capable of being hacked.

One bright sunny day, the Vehicle Inquest Jury, led by a pompous cabinet minister, gathers to assess liability in six accidents. It is not long before the sole civilian jurist sets the cabinet minister on a verbal rampage when she questions his interpretation of events.

As tension builds in the jury room, eight hapless people enter separate driver-less vehicles- a young pregnant woman, a terrified wife finding the strength to escape her abusive husband, an old soldier shouldering his medals with dignity, an aging actress with a failing mind but an insatiable need for adoration, and four others.

Shortly after heading out, each passenger is startled to hear a strange voice calling out to them by name within their vehicle. After the message is finished, the windows become opaque and they each realize they have become a hostage.

The voice, known as the Hacker, says calmly, “It may have come to your attention that your vehicle is no longer under your management. From here on in, I am in charge of your destination… two hours and thirty minutes from now, it is highly likely you will be dead.

It is soon apparent that the Hacker’s intentions go well beyond terrorizing the eight passengers. Each local news station reports a sighting of a frantic passenger clawing to escape their vehicle. As it is realized there are eight hostages, the news spreads nationally at first; then globally through every news medium. Soon images from within each vehicle appear everywhere.

And just as suddenly, the situation expands to include the Vehicle Inquest Jury. The Hacker’s voice fills the jury room. The images of the startled jury and the irate cabinet minister are now part of the mystery. What unfolds is a horrific version of the Truman Show.

Every subsequent chapter draws the tension higher and higher. To share anymore would spoil the impact of each new revelation. It is a real nail-biter! With the advancement of self-driving vehicles currently under development and the privacy issues of our current social media sources, the reader is left hoping this fiction isn’t a prescient warning. Another 1984!

Highly entertaining  and recommended reading.

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