I have read and reviewed one or two Alex Kava books previously and remembered the kind of writing style and content to be quite action-packed and very vivid to read, so I was looking forward to Hotwire when I saw it in the library. I wasn't disappointed by this as either a crime thriller or a book to engross and entertain.
On the front is the tagline 'A remote forest clearing. Some kids looking for fun. Nothing prepared them for a killer', along with a quote from Tess Gerritsen: 'Rip-roaring action that only builds intensity with every page'. As a fan of Gerritsen, having a book given the thumbs up by her gives me some confidence that it's going to be at least half decent, even if the tagline isn't the most original in the world. For those who have read Kava novels before, you'll be familiar with Special Agent Maggie O'Dell and army colonel Benjamin Platt, two key players again in Hotwire. I like that they provided me with some grounding and something to relate to, but this book can just as easily be read as a stand alone novel not having read anything by the author previously.
The first chapter lands us in the Nebraska National Forest, where a group of teens are out to have some fun. In the middle of nowhere these 'kids' find things to keep themselves occupied, including a bit of salvia, a drug, and given the mix of personalities there it seems like it may be some kind of initiation outing. But the fun turns to confusion as lights start going off around them, as sounds start to terrify them, as people start to get injured and die. The red eyes seen in the dark in the forest and claws that some kids remember make them think it may be something surreal, extraterrestrial maybe, or some wild animal of the woodland. But either way, that's not the only strange thing to happen in the area.
5 miles from the national forest, Maggie is brought to investigate some dead cows. Not just any dead cows, but mutilated ones. With their blood drained and their general desecration to be so precise and grotesque, it seems like someone with skill must have done it. Not long after, the kids in the forest are found and Maggie investigates, but can't believe those high school children are responsible. The police aren't so convinced about the theory of either aliens or a crazed animal. A third idea comes to light when a man investigating strange phenomena, including the odd flashing lights, is convinced there may be some bizarre black ops jazz going on.
A sideline story then opens up with Benjamin Platt being called in to investigate cases of food poisoning on the East Coast, trying to work out whether the case is more wide-spread than first imagined and whether something more sinister is going on. With young children coming down sick, however, time is running out.
I won't say any more on the premise, but it's interesting to wonder initially how the two cases to possibly come together. But bit by bit, characters and theories collide, and the pace and action intensifies because time is running out to save the remaining teens after their drug fuelled party and to solve the elementary school infections. It seems that beneath the surface are secrets and suspicions that are just waiting to be found, and they aren't things I could have guessed from the outset; the twists and turns in the premise are quite well hidden and discovered in a piecemeal fashion, which kept me reading on and wanting to find out more.
The way in which Kava writes is something I really enjoyed in the last novel. She creates the scenes in a vivid way, which is important because, for instance, the National Forest is a large expanse of ground and the types of events going on need to be well explained to imagine the scope and nature of it all. I found myself able to build a mental picture of the area, of the teens, the mutilated cows, of the school where the kids were infected, etc, which made reading so much easier and more engrossing.
She also builds up the sense of atmosphere very well, incrementally adding suspicion, curiosity and tension with each page. The pace can shift and it kept me on my toes without leaving me feeling either bored or too worn out at any point. Kava is able to make the characters relatively three dimensional too, in the sense that you learn bits about each and then she builds this up and strengthens the connections between characters; in the end, you get a good sense of how they may be feeling, you can empathise with them, and again it just makes reading the novel all the more gripping.
The only downside for me was probably in terms of the ending, which I found to be a little abrupt. I would have like a more polished tie-up of events that didn't seem so rushed, hence the 4 stars. Overall, however, the premise was original and kept me guessing, and the writing style drew me in and kept me entertained.
This is one I'd recommend for Kava fans and newbies, and for those who like a good crime thriller with some action. I wish the ending was a little more developed but all in all it was a vivid read that I was quite hooked to read.