Michael Koryta. Those Who Wish Me Dead. USA: Little Brown and Company, 2014.
Everything anyone wants to know about mountain hiking and forest fires! Koryta's crackling prose leaves you as breathless as the real thing. Allison and Ethan live in the Montana Rockies where he teaches outdoor survival training to young teenagers: boot camp for bad boys. A federal marshal convinces Ethan to accept among his summer group a vulnerable witness to a murder. No-one except the boy Jace knows his real identity, having assumed the name Connor. He's being hunted by a pair of stone-cold villains who leave deadly consequences wherever they go. Connor has to adapt to his new persona as he learns the ways of nature.
But the killer Blackwell brothers are not far away as a forest fire begins to rage. The dialogue between the two men, and with their victims, reminds me of some oddly polite, stilted nineteenth-century language usage, such as in the TV series Deadwood ... increasing the fear they induce. Connor manages to team up with ex-firefighter Hannah to try to escape both the hunters and the inferno. Allison and Ethan don't fare as well at rescuing. The pace and characterization only falter a little when Ethan struggles with his own will to survive. Great straightforward suspense.
Word: wilder - (as in wilderness); someone led astray in an unfamiliar, frightening, and confusing place
Trouble might come for you when you showed fear, but trouble doubled-down when you lied about being afraid. (3)
Not a bad liar, Hannah, you are not bad at this at all, a damn fine dishonest woman when you need to be. (200)
It was the old test, his favourite training exercise, and his most familiar role: he was the wilder again. (278)
Connor, off the grid:
Montana was better than the safe houses, better than being surrounded by people who knew you were in danger. That just fed the fear. They'd thrown every distraction they could at him, from movies to music to video games, and none of them worked, because none of them could pull his mind away from those memories ...This was better. He hadn't believed it would be, because he'd be out here without anyone he knew, but he'd been wrong. Montana was better because it forced distraction. Video games and movies hadn't been able to claim his mind. Out here, the land demanded his mind leave the memories. He had to concentrate on the tasks of the moment. There were too many hard things to do for any other option.Connor Reynolds marched along the trail, and Jace Wilson rode secretly inside of him, and both of them were safe. (72-3)
Typical brother exchange:
" ... Young Jace is very smart. Very resourceful."
"And maybe very alone in the woods."
"If they find him first, it's trouble."
"We find him first, it's easy."
"This is what we were promised from the beginning. So far, nothing has been easy."
"So it goes with some quests, brother. We must earn our reward today."
"How I treasure your bits of wisdom. Let me never say otherwise."
"I appreciate that." (170-1)
A friend in need:
"I need you to try," Allison whispered. She rested her face against the horse's neck, feeling his heat, remembering the way he had warned her of the arrival of the Blackwell brothers in the night. What if he hadn't, what if she'd not had a chance to at least grab the bear spray? He'd saved her once already, she realized, and she was asking more of him. She was afraid it would be more than he could give.
"I'm hurting too," she told the horse. And Lord, but it was true. (289)
S.J. Watson. Second Life. US: Harper/Collins, 2015.
Oh yes, this novel is just as stunning as her first one (where I didn'tgive it full due). Julia Wilding's grief over her sister Kate's unsolved murder leads her into a spiral of addiction she keeps hidden from her husband Hugh and son Connor. Only Kate's friend Anna seems able to understand, helping her seek Kate's killer online. It's Julia's narrative, compelling and frightening, as she self-medicates not with her former alcoholism but with the new cyber sex: Lukas becomes her clandestine lover but may not be whom he seems.
As suspicions and eventually threats torment her, Hugh thinks Julia is losing her grip on reality. Her self-justifications and self-delusions carry the reader on her slippery descent to desperation. She fears Lukas is playing a sinister game, she fears her marriage will disintegrate, she fears for Connor's life. Late revelations galvanize her to protect Connor and Anna at any cost. How can the suspense possibly end, we wonder, and can't stop reading. Watson has his fingers right on the pulse of human frailties as well as today's Internet dark side.
One-liner: Was that the moment my life slipped out of one track―recovery, stability, sobriety―and into another? (48)
All his pretense has gone, leaving in its place nothing but a heavy malevolence. (237)
Killing the pain:
Soon I will go home―back to my real life, back to Hugh and to Connor, back to Adrienne and Anna, back to life without my sister―but perhaps if I do this first it'll be different. The pain of her death will not have faded, but it will be blunted. I won't care quite so much that the person who took her life is still free. Instead I'll be thinking about this moment, when everything feels so alive and uncomplicated, when all my pain and sorrow have shrunk down, condensed and transformed to this one thing, this one need, this one desire. Me and him, him and me. If I sleep with him again there'll at least be one more brief moment when there's no past and no future and nothing else exists in the world except for us, and it will be a tiny moment of peace. (162-3)
We talk some more, sip our drinks, but the evening is winding down. After another fifteen minutes of chat we hear a car pull up outside. A door slams, there's the pip-pip of the alarm, and a moment later footsteps up the path and the doorbell rings. I look over to Anna who says "He's early!" She looks electrified, like a little girl waiting for the postman to bring her birthday cards, and I feel a curious excitement too; I'm looking forward to meeting this person, this man who has given Anna such transparent, uncomplicated happiness. Who has helped her grieve for Kate and move on. (270)
Lillian Beckwith. A Proper Woman. UK: Dales Large Print Books, 1986.
A quick read at 268 pages, no mystery, no detectives, no manhunt. More like a time warp. Anna Matheson lives in a remote crofting community on a Scottish island, working the fields and animals with her brother Mata. Once as a child she briefly meets the itinerant Jimmy Pearl, who wanders freely, collecting and selling river mussel pearls. The early deaths of her parents oblige her to care for her young brother and lose her dream of becoming a school teacher. Anna's noticeable lack of suitors as she reaches her twenties is explained midway through the story. Everything changes when Mata brings home his city bride Jeannie who despises the circumscribed village life. Anna's ultimate choice is either a dreadful marriage or be homeless. Her husband Black Fergus McFee is a brute of a man. Anna's trials seem endless but fate intervenes, credible or not ― it's a story! ― yet highly evocative of Hebrides life in the 1930s in its ordained simplicity and connection to the land.
Her mind's eye formed a vivid picture of the nightly ritual: her father sitting at the kitchen table with the Gaelic Bible open in front of him, his head haloed by the lamplight as he read aloud the chosen chapters. (18)
"Are you telling me you do not like to see the sky ablaze with shimmering stars and the moon lit by silver as it rises above the black hills?" (44)
"A bairn would settle her," they said. "What's Mata about that he has not given her a bairn yet? Is he not 'all correct,' as they say of the bulls here?"
Anna grinned weakly. "Right enough, a bairn would settle her," she agreed.
But as time went by it seemed to Anna that Jeannie, instead of showing a willingness to settle, grew more restless and peevish. With strained generosity she continued to attribute her sister-in-law's moods to the fact that she had now been married to Mata for more than two years and as yet she was showing no sign of pregnancy. A woman in such a situation must be troubled, thought Anna, whose view was that children were the desired fulfillment of marriage and could never come too soon. (63-4)
A proposal of sorts:
"Seeing my mother's gone, I'm thinking I could do with a woman about the house," he said. "Maybe you'll do me."
Anna's indignation flared. "And I am thinking there will be no shortage of women of your own kind to choose from," she flashed back at him.
"You'd do well to think about it," he advised, letting her outburst glance off him. Turning, he strode on.
"Never!" she cried, and heard in reply his jeering laughter borne to her on the night air. (97)