Lately I've been having some fun with my reading and indulging in some very readable thrillers. It's a genre I like, though I often need a break between books and authors or I'd get stale and my reviews would suffer. So when I saw Hotwire in my library and was the first person to get hold of it I was determined to read and enjoy it. Now I didn't know anything about the author, only that she is American and writes thrillers with a lead female role, something that is becoming almost a must-have for thrillers. This could easily have put me off, I'm so used to the characters by such writers as Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwall and Karin Slaughter that it's a wonder there's more room for another female lead, but I discovered Maggie O'Dell with great pleasure.
Maggie is the heroine of nine books with this one and I must admit to loving the character and looking forward to getting to know her in more books. But more about the characters later, lets look at the book.
When Maggie O'Dell is sent by her boss to give a weekend seminar to students in Denver, an unusual request from State Patrol Investigator Donald Ferrgeson has her divert to a part of the national Forest in Nebraska where cows are being mutilated in strange circumstances. Just five miles away another strange occurrence is happening, as a group of teens are about to film their own drug-fuelled party for the Internet when it all goes horribly wrong, leaving three teenagers dead and several badly hurt. Yet the only sign of the terrible slaughter are scorch marks. Maggie goes to investigate and has to find her way through what is real and what is hallucination.
As a FBI special agent and profiler her presence is needed but the local sheriff, Frank Skylar and the parents of the teenagers are loathe helping her in any way. Whatever went on that night is not yet over and other victims will die if she can't find some answers quickly, but who will help, not hinder the investigation?
Meanwhile a close friend and co-worker, Benjamin Platt is at the scene of a deadly outbreak of a mystery illness threatening the lives of forty-two schoolchildren in Norfolk, Virginia. Platt is a director of USAMRIID, a government body that researches infectious diseases. His friend Roger Bix has called him in because of his army connections. It seems that the outbreak is related to contaminated food, but the company that supplies it also answers to the government. The prospect of further contamination is high, who is behind it and can it be connected in any way with Maggie's own dilemma? This is the basic story and it's a thriller that gathers pace with every chapter promising a dazzling high-octane finish.
I am not used to the author's style but from this book it appears I have missed a lot already, though it's possible to read the book without a full background. As any good author can do, by using the memories of times when the various characters worked together a picture of how they stand in relation to each other is made clear. By keeping the two investigations running separately but connected by phone, the characters are divided into two groups.
Maggie is a divorced woman in her early forties and hasn't any children. She has some background with Ben Platt but it's a very new one and a tentative relationship that's blossoming from previous books. As an agent and profiler she's more at home with the scene of crime than with live victims, but she handles this well, gaining a lot of her information from Dawson, one of the surviving boys who was badly injured and saw something that sounds like a rabid animal on the loose.
Maggie is a determined woman who is atypical of most female leads, though her language is restrained and she doesn't attempt to be 'one of the boys'. I found the usual characterization of a divorced woman afraid too trust again a bit clichéd, but apart from that I thought the character well written with a quick mind and a firm character that isn't afraid to get dirty. She's had some brushes with death before and is put at risk in the book.
Other characters in Nebraska are the sheriff, who isn't as wholesome as he would like to pretend to be. Then there's a UFO hunter, Wesley Stotter, who gets mixed up in the action with dire consequences. The presence of another woman, Lucy Coy, adds some interest as a friend to Maggie.
Benjamin Platt is also divorced and equally attracted to Maggie. He's an army colonel as well as heading the USAMRIID team. With Roger Bix, these are the main characters in this story. The author introduces these well and the minor characters are also plotted well. It's usually the set team of players that make a book popular and Maggie's character has a large fan base.
Developments on a theme.
I feel that thrillers get by more on a plot-driven basis so any analysis isn't going to give much away. There's a strong theme of germ warfare in this book and the premise that the government are involved. It's quite frightening to read about Ebola and other viruses when the public has just got over the threat of biological warfare with nations plotting terrorism on a large scale. It's something I have always been concerned about and I don't trust any government to be truthful on this subject. So the book did give me a few nightmares at times.
Of course the ending is open because there isn't going to be any exposure of dirty dealing, though there are hints that add up to some strong suspicions. In the end though this is fiction and apart from anything else must be judged on that basis. I found it a thrilling read that had me saying to myself,' just a few more pages' as I struggled to stay awake to finish it.
This is an excellent book and if the early ones are as good as this one then I've discovered another good author. As yet I can't say where the character is in relation to other heroines because I need to become better acquainted with her, but this will be remedied as soon as possible. I was pleasantly surprised with the lack of strong language. I'm not a prude but I'm not a fan of sentences contained dozens of expletives either. I would say that this is another equal sex book with plenty of thrills and enough action to satisfy most fans of the genre. Dare I say it- a real page-turner with twists galore?
Hardback published by Sphere in the UK in 2011.
Amazon price £9.99 in hardback.
Mass Market paperback £4.99.
Thanks for reading.