A Trio of Suspense Novels
By Jennie Hansen

Suspense has become a favorite among LDS fiction readers.  Three recently released suspense tales will keep readers up until the wee hours and guarantee a large number of diminished fingernails.  All three books have extremely dark covers, with only No Way Out showing a glimmer of hopeful light.  Don’t start any of the titles in this trio late at night if you have to be up for work or school early the next morning.

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Standoff, by Jeff Downs.  Reading more like a mainstream novel than most LDS suspense novels, Standoff lost no time drawing me into its pages.  Tightly written and edited, this slightly futuristic novel is one of those rare books I shouldn’t have started at nine o’clock in the evening because I couldn’t put it down until I finished it some time during the wee hours of the morning.

TOR is an acronym for a specialized SWAT squad that serves about 5,000 square miles in Phoenix, Arizona, somewhere in the not-too-distant future.  The squad’s charge is to save lives ? both those of victims or hostages and whenever possible, perpetrators.   They’re equipped with state-of-the-art equipment including microjets that can speed the team to crime scenes quickly and efficiently.

The team is composed of an assortment of men and women with specialized tactical skills.  Just one is a member of the Church ? Roach, with his long, straight raven-black hair pulled back and tied with a leather band.  On the job he can burrow himself into air-conditioning pipes or any other tight spot to appraise a situation or take out a violent hostage-taker. He’s considered the unit’s scout.  Away from the job he’s a dedicated family man who wonders if his line of work is fair to his family.  Then there’s Trager, who heads the squad.  He’s a brilliant strategist who cares deeply about his mission and his squad.  Lacey, a martial arts specialist, specializes in hand-to-hand combat and rescue operations.  She’s also more than six feet tall.  Dupree fancies himself a ladies’ man and specializes in assault and rescue. Psycho is seven feet of muscle with an incredible ability to analyze everything but himself.  He’s also the group’s rear guard and explosives specialist. Shy Simon develops new weapons and is also a sniper; Kiddo is tiny and feminine in appearance but she’s an expert on covert operations, assault and rescue missions, and poetry; and Kovack, who is new (having just graduated from the academy), is a crack shot who is learning to deal with the pressures of his new career.  Together they form a crack team.

Trouble comes in the form of a terrorist group that finds a way to analyze or steal TOR’s technology and turn it against the team.  A strange series of crimes leaves the various swat teams with slight failures and bad press.  The crimes grow increasingly more complicated until a member of the team is kidnapped and used to access a microjet with all its equipment.  Time begins to run out when TOR learns the serious nature of the terrorists’ group’s plan and the risks involved in rescuing one of their own.

Though not a conversion story or a strongly LDS-themed book, this story does present choices between good and evil, personal accountability, and the individual’s need to balance family relationships against social responsibility in ways that are compatible with gospel concepts.

Those who enjoy action-packed suspense with a touch of science fiction technology thrown in will find Standoff a satisfying addition to their bookshelves.

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No Way Out by Christine Kersey.

Christine Kersey’s No Way Out amazed me, and I won’t limit that by saying “for a first book.”  It is a tightly written novel that preys on the kind of emotional insecurities many people have.  Most of us are a little unsure of where to draw the line between being loyal and being a fool. No Way Out leaves the reader as unsure where to draw the line as the major character is.

As I read No Way Out, I wasn’t certain whether I liked the main character or not. Abby was either incredibly faithful and loyal or a gullible sucker, and I’m not too fond of stories that feature stupid women who have to be rescued by a miracle or some macho male. Abby was raised without the best family background and was intimidated by a know-it-all mother and “perfect” sister, but it soon becomes clear she’s not stupid ? nor is she naive.  She has some hang-ups and prejudices, but they only make her more real.  To complicate matters, Abby married a man with background problems of his own and, of course, her mother disapproved of him and can’t wait to say, “I told you so.”

The story opens with Eric Breuner sneaking out of the house, leaving his wife, Abby, and their daughters sleeping.  He abandons his car and takes every precaution to cover his tracks.  Why he does this is open to conjecture.

When Abby’s husband disappears under a cloud of suspicion, Abby’s faith in her marriage and common sense seem to be at odds. At every turn the evidence points to her husband’s involvement with drugs and his guilt in the embezzlement of funds from his employer. There’s even strong evidence her husband is involved with another woman and could be a bigamist.  His co-workers seem supportive, as does her daughter’s teacher, but something about their support seems off-key to Abby and she suspects they believe her husband is guilty of the charges made against him.

Several types of relationships are explored in this novel, including husband/wife, mother/daughter/, sisters, estranged in-laws, employee/employer, law enforcement/the individual, neighbors,  and teacher/student.  There is also a subtle message that choosing between good and evil is relatively easy; the difficulty arises when one is unable to determine who or what is good and who or what is evil.

There is a large cast of characters in this novel and though the story is told predominantly from Abby’s point of view, many other points of view are represented and may become confusing to some readers.  Though I had no trouble following the point-of-view changes in this novel, it doesn’t particularly enhance the story to get inside quite so many heads.

Kersey did a great job of keeping the reader off-balance and as unsure as Abby. The intricate plot twists are my favorite part of this story. This book could be classified in several categories ? women’s fiction, mystery, suspense. Whatever label it is given, it is a keeper.

Mirror Image, by Clair M. Poulson.

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Twins, separated at birth, is a common enough fiction theme, but there’s nothing common about Clair Poulson’s Mirror Image.  The title is a little misleading because the twins in the story are identical twins, not mirror image twins.  In this instance the title merely refers to the fact the two young men look so much alike, they can easily be mistaken for each other.

In most crime fiction, only one major crime (or a series of linked crimes), is the focus of the story.  Mirror Image is different in that the initial crime leads to the commission of other crimes and an unfortunate accident that brings about the separation of a young crime victim’s twin sons.  A second unrelated horrific crime leads to still another chain of events and as the two chains cross and are mixed with assumptions and greed, the twins struggle to discover who they are and why someone is attempting to extort money from them and why someone ? maybe more than one someone ? wants them dead.

Rafe grows up in a tight-knit LDS ranch family with a dad, a stepmother, and a half-sister he loves with all his heart.  His own mother was gunned down by a bank robber when he was six.  He thrives on rodeo riding and makes a name for himself as a bronc-rider. 

Greg is an only child with a definite talent for playing basketball.  His family moves frequently, but while living in Pocatello, Idaho, a young girl, Lindsay Diamond sees a picture of the rodeo rider and is struck by his likeness to the basketball hero she knows at school.  Her attempt to bring the two together results in an attempted kidnapping.

After briefly becoming aware of the other, but without actually meeting, their lives take them in different directions.  Eventually their lives and Lindsay’s touch again, but quickly take on nightmare proportions as they scramble to get acquainted and learn who they are while battling attacks on several fronts.

Poulson’s characters are believable and his story gripping.  As usual, he delivers a nail-biter, sure to keep his readers up late.

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