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by Meg Gardiner
Blue Door, June 2011
284 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0007337663

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Autumn Reiniger is a spoiled brat with a rich father who can't deny her anything. For her twenty-first birthday she wants excitement, so Daddy signs her up for an urban reality game with fake guns and speedboats. But he wants Autumn to learn a lesson from the adventure, so he spices the treat with some tricky challenges such as the appearance of her childhood bogeyman, Red Rattler.

When Autumn and her friends are taken hostage, bystanders and the police are prepped to believe it's all part of the game. In fact, someone else has taken charge of the adventure, with a grudge against Autumn's father and a team prepared to kill to get what it wants. The gang, however, has failed to factor in the appearance of forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett and her military-trained boyfriend, Gabe.

Everyone's plans go awry, early and often, in this action-packed story of survival. Gardiner's brisk, visually-descriptive style is excellent for unfolding plot and sustaining forward momentum, essential here as the book is packed with less than likeable characters and cloudy motives. It's hard to believe whole-heartedly in the lead villain, whose ego is eclipsed only by his inability to grasp what's going on around him. His team seems set to implode, but the reality is less psychologically gripping, if cinematic.

Jo Beckett is a great heroine, who flexes her physical courage more than her mental acuity in this story. From horse-riding to snake-charming, Jo's the girl you'd want in your corner, preferably with the dashing Gabe not far behind.

As the pair struggle to keep the group of spoiled kids alive in the woods, back in San Francisco, journalist Evan Delaney has teamed up with Jo's sister Tina and pocket-rocket homicide detective Amy Tang. Their investigations provide moments of light relief between the action sequences involving Jo. It'll be interesting to see if Gardiner decides to team up Evan and Jo in a future novel, perhaps a return to her procedural style after this high-octane adventure.

Gardiner's prose is always crisp, sometimes beautiful, such as when she's describing the settings where the main characters are stranded. It's this winning combination of pace and carefully-chosen words that makes her books so readable.

Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author, currently working on a debut crime novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary, September 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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