I hadn't heard of Alex Kava before I came across this in the library, but the blurb made it sound like my kind of thing and the cover tempted me. I'm glad I picked it up and gave it a try because it was a worthwhile read, even if not the best I've read lately.
On the cover we're told that this is 'As good as Tess Gerritsen or your money back', along with the tagline 'Trapped by a storm. There's no way out. Right where the killer wants you' to draw us in. The claim about Gerritsen is quite a big one as I love her novels, so I was quite tempted to see for myself. On the back is a further tagline: 'A box of butchered body parts. A serial killer on the loose'. Yes, this is a crime thriller, in case you hadn't guessed it! I seem to be addicted to them lately.
We're introduced to a flight rescue team, whose send-down rescuer is Liz, more of a newbie to the team and still trying to prove her worth as a woman amongst a male group. She gets sent down from a chopper, in all sorts of weather, to check out boats and the like that seem to be in trouble out on the water. But one day the rescue team get more than what they'd bargained for. What seems like nothing, despite a tricky send-down operation, turns out to be a cool box, inside of which is a butchered torso, bagged up in bits. Not the usual finding in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Enter Special Agent Maggie O'Dell. After enduring psychopathic killers and a recent very narrow escape, she's struggling to compartmentalise the terrors she's been through. Now she's being sent to Florida to check out the cool box, which should be far easier than coming face to face with killers, except there's an incoming storm that could make her trip more than a little interesting.
They identify the body as a man who disappeared weeks earlier. But where he came from and how he ended up in bits, shoved inside a cooler and sent out to see is still a mystery. Parallel to this story, we're introduced to Colonel Platt, also sent to Pensacola but to investigate a strange infection that's killing wounded soldiers. Doctors are left with no idea of the cause or solution. In the mean time, there's also Scott, a funeral home owner, who is married to Liz's sister. Then there's the girls' father, who sells hot dogs on the beach and seems to know everyone from his food van tours. And finally, there's a new guy in the mix, apparently at Pensacola on business, but perhaps on the shadier side of the dealings. Whilst all of this is going on there is, of course, an impending storm, Isaac, who seems to have Pensacola as its bull's eye.
So, to summarise, there are quite a few tangents to the novel, all of which start to mesh and come together, in part, due to the storm. The web of characters grows and we learn more about individual characters and their relationships, so it wasn't too hard to keep track of who's who and the different aspects of what's going on. I actually enjoyed it being quite varied because it kept things fresh, and we learned a little bit more about the different people and events in a piecemeal fashion. This also meant that there wasn't a way I could have guessed exactly what was going on or what would happen, though I had some ideas from not too far in to reading the novel. I guess you could say it was a little formulaic in the way it lead us to conclusions, so there wasn't any major shocks to be had. None the less, it came across as original and quite gripping because I wanted to know what would happen next.
The atmosphere was created quite vividly and I could imagine the scenes and characters relatively well. The level of details was adequate to give the novel some credibility and authenticity, so it felt like an intelligent yet interesting read. At times I felt like it was a little too obvious perhaps, but then if it were more obtuse the reader would probably never quite understand what was going on and lose interest! The pace was kept quite stable and active throughout, and there was plenty of variety in terms of live action, such as sea rescues, and more detective and forensic detailing, such as the analysis of the cool box remains. The latter is what shares some similarity with Gerrtisen, because she can get very detailed on forensic details. I'd say Kava didn't go in to so much depth, and instead blended what he did use with a more dynamic and varied premise.
On the back is a quote by Gerritsen, 'Rip-roaring action that only builds in intensity with every page. Damaged kept me so riveted during a long plane ride that I completely forgot where I was - the mark of a true thriller!' I'd mostly agree with this. It was written well, intelligent yet enjoyable, and it was fresh to read because it was 'different'. Whilst it was engaging and I wanted to keep reading it, however, I wouldn't put it up there as a top read, perhaps because some elements didn't seem as strong or as clear as they could be, which is always the risk with introducing too many tangents and side-stories. The other downside was the slight formulaic layout of the novel in terms of leading us to answers, and the storylines, whilst they did converge, were not necessarily the most gripping or believable.
On the whole though, Kava did a good job of balancing the novel to make it fairly gritty and interesting, so it is one I'd recommend for crime thriller fans. Just bear in mind, the sea rescue scenes may make you a little sea sick!
348 pages over 67 chapters
Selling on Amazon for £5.24 (paperback)