Saturday, May 25, 2019

Michael Koryta, what are you doing to me? - a little more about his new novel, If She Wakes

To be clear, sometimes I think my staff recommendations, should be color coded, like emails. If you liked my recommendation for Park Avenue Woman, I'm hoping you don't think that means you will automatically like There There. I consider myself a reader of wide-ranging tastes, and judge books based on how what I think the author was trying to write. So today I'm writing about a thriller, but even then, that doesn't tell everything. I think the scare quotient is higher for thrillers than mysteries, and if you're not in noir territory, so is the violence. But a lot of what I'd call thrillers (not in series, you know who the villain is, it's more about the chase than the puzzle) can be downright civilized, with a relatively low body count, let alone splatter count.

Michael Koryta's just-out If She Wakes is, warning to those who just took my advice to read Sujata Massey, high on the body count. It's not necessarily that graphic, but it will certainly have readers questioning their own safety, including people I know, because Tara Beckley, the person at the center of the story, is what we call a media escort. Beckley is bringing a speaker to a talk at a college in rural Maine. After the dinner (there's often a dinner, which is why a lot of our authors show up just before start time), Amandi Oltamu asks Tara to take him on a detour, and at a not-particularly-picturesque bridge, asks her to stop the car and take some photos.

Things go downhill from there. There's a terrible accident. Beckley is in a coma. An insurance claims adjuster named Abby Kaplan is called in - is Hammel College to blame? Well, that's the tip of the iceberg, because pretty soon Kaplan knows too much and the chase is on to find the phone that holds the secret that Oltamu stashed away.

One thing that's very different for me about reading these kinds of thrillers is the way I go about the reading process. When I read a family drama, or a comedy, or a historical, or even a more traditional mystery, I usually stop reading every 50 pages or so to get a drink, load the dishwasher, or check my phone. Then there comes a certain point, for usually the last 100-150 pages, where I read the book straight through. But for this sort of thriller (how do you distinguish a more pulse-pounding, threat-of-violence-lurks story from the others?), I am constantly stopping, pushing the book away, taking a walk to clear my head, and then heading back for another 10-20 pages. Even moreso as the book comes to a climax. Is that common? Is that why so many books of this type have short chapters?

Like many a mystery-thriller, the lead, and I guess Abby the insurance adjuster is the lead, there's a backstory in there. I feel like this is particularly important in psychological suspense, where there's always the question, "What is this quasi-protagonist running away from?" In this case, Kaplan was a race car driver, who had an unfortunate accident that led to the death of her boyfriend, an up-and-coming actor. Yes, she was that good a driver that she ran with celebrities. She's suppressed that drive, such that at one point, she takes a long train ride into Boston for a hospital visit - she's got great reasons not to drive. Great ones. But those driving instincts are still there and they will be at the heart of some chase scenes. And its really her knowledge of the road that first unlocks the cover up.

Needless to say, there's a terrible conspiracy going on. Because all the killers are at least one step removed, we don't get that much more than a short recap of the why. I refer back to the beginning of the book where Tara Beckley wonders what exactly her charge does, anyway? Something about batteries.

One other thing of note about If She Wakes is the sociopath assassin. I can't exactly call him the villain because there are several villains, but he certainly is the prime adversary (goes by Dax), and I'm not giving much away as you'll figure this out pretty quickly. He's very young - in fact, I'd call this my first encounter with a millennial sociopath assassin. He's got all the tropes of that generation on top of his killer instincts. And he's got those killer instincts from being raised by his dad and uncle, also assassins. It's a case where nature and nurture work together.

It seems like Michael Koryta sells production rights on just about every novel. Here's The Prophet, here's Cypress House, her's So Cold the River. Most recently, there's been a flurry of news about Those Who Wish Me Dead with Angelina Jolie being attached.  I wouldn't be surprised if a deal is in the works for his latest. He'll likely hint at one when he visits Boswell on May 28*, when he'll talk to fellow pulse-pounder, Nick Petrie.

--Marilyn Stasio's review of If She Wakes in The New York Times Book Review
--Starred Kirkus - Michael Koryta has never been better
--Oline Cogdill's Associated Press review in Chicago Daily Herald - Dax is the son of the villain in Those Who Wish Me Dead
--Colette Bancroft in The Tampa Bay Times, who notes that this "inventive" new thriller "accelerates like one of Abby's beloved race cars"

Photo credit for Michael Koryta is Jonathan Mehring.

*May 28, 2019, to be exact, at 7 pm. Hope to see you at Boswell! More on our upcoming event page.