Like a roller coaster ascending, car by car, toward the top and then plummeting, leaving our stomachs behind, Mary Burton --- the modern-day Queen of Romantic Suspense --- raises the stakes chapter by chapter in her newest release, NO ESCAPE. The thrill-seeking reader hangs on for the unnerving journey to the truth that psychologist Jolene Granger pursues.
Tension surfaces as soon as Jo joins her Texas Ranger ex-husband, Brody Winchester, on a case. From the moment she agrees to hear the dying confession of the Hannibal Lecter-like serial killer Harvey Smith, until she descends into the hole his apprentice has dug, the pace accelerates toward crisis point. Hoping to spare the victims’ families the added injury of allowing Smith to go to his grave with his secrets, Jo travels with Brody to interview the killer in the Livingston State Prison. Recognizing that their loved ones want closure, Brody needs to know where Smith has buried the bodies. Smith will talk only to Jo and insists Brody be present for the interview.
Smith surprises Brody and Jo when he tells them of his adopted son, Robbie. The convicted killer says Robbie is responsible for the recent murders. Like the majority of Burton’s villains, Smith thinks of himself as a good guy. The delusional psychopath says he saved the boy from a bad home, trained him to kill, and taught him how not to stand out. Smith confuses Jo by asking if she has had a good life. She is intent on discovering why he has called for her. The interview is unsettling since she knows he is a manipulator.
"Sensory details, irresistible characters and a riveting plot guarantee that Mary Burton will ride to the top of the bestseller list with NO ESCAPE."
Smith frustrates her when he says, “You’re a smart woman. If you look deep inside yourself, you’ll unravel the puzzle.”
“What puzzle?” Jo asks. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Once you figure yourself out you’ll find Robbie,” the cancer-ridden killer says, and hangs up the phone in the interview room, leaving Jo cold.
She leaves the room, shaken. When Brody asks if she is okay, her response is cool, calm and polite, but he sees that the serial killer has touched a concern she’s concealed for years. What is it? What does it have to do with Smith and his apprentice? Why did the killer insist Brody go into the interview room with her? In addition to locating the bodies and Robbie, Jo has a conundrum to solve.
As her former husband and lover, Brody sees the stiffening of her back and the flash of green in her eyes, which tells him that Smith has gotten into her head. Smith notes it and goads her. It annoys Brody that Jo is as guarded with him as she is with the serial killer.
Jo’s quest for answers leads her from the prison to her mother’s beauty parlor, as Burton links clues one by one like roller coaster cars on a track. The investigation takes Brody, Jo, and Texas Rangers Jim Beck and Rick Santos to the Texas crime scene where Smith buried his victims alive. The investigators rush to capture Robbie before he can kill more innocent women. No need for a spoiler alert. While the murderer is revealed in chapter three, his alias is not. The Rangers realize that Robbie has most likely changed his name and is probably hiding among Jo’s acquaintances. This is particularly frightening because Smith has told Jo and Brody that Robbie was clever at assuming roles.
The reader’s ride twists, turns and loops to the startling denouement. Burton is such a master of creating setting that along the way the reader smells the first victim’s sweat, urine and department store perfume. Each shovelful of dirt landing on the women the villain buries among the bluebonnets “whooshes” a little of the reader’s breath away. Jo learns that one murderer follows an unexplainable urge. The other is motivated by jealousy and the compulsion to prove himself to the man he considers his maker. Who is the second man? Why is Jo his target?
NO ESCAPE thrills on multiple levels. As they plow through red herrings and spine-chilling danger, Brody and Jo deal with a past that creates friction between them. Her mother and sister despise him. Does Jo still love alpha-male Brody? The passion clearly sizzles under the surface, but can he ever regain the trust of this strong woman after the horrible way their marriage ended? Can the hot hero save the feisty heroine from Robbie and claim a second chance at love?
Sensory details, irresistible characters and a riveting plot guarantee that Mary Burton will ride to the top of the bestseller list with NO ESCAPE. The queen’s 22nd novel scares us like a roller coaster ride, but we have the safety net of knowing that the torture is happening to someone else.
Reviewed by Melody Dean Dimick on November 1, 2013