A panelist at an author’s seminar once distinguished a mystery from a thriller by advising that a mystery is generally a “whodunit” while a thriller is a “how do you get out of it.” NO WAY OUT, the latest stand-alone effort from Andrew Gross, not only meets that definition of a thriller (in spades) but also comes very close to answering its own question --- not once, but twice.
NO WAY OUT features two women with very different lives but one thing in common --- powerful people are out to kill them. One of them is Wendy Gould, a former police officer and present suburban wife and mother who lets a minor but festering disagreement with her husband combine with a little too much alcohol. Wendy is in New York at a tony piano bar following a writing seminar, and is supposed to meet a friend there to “catch up,” as they say. The friend begs off at the last minute, which leaves Wendy to pursue a new if fleeting acquaintanceship with an attractive and extremely talented man who happens to be seated at the bar by her. One thing leads to another, and they wind up in his hotel room. Cooler heads prevail before anything too irrevocable takes place, but while Wendy is in the bathroom, her erstwhile Romeo gets a visitor.
"There is enough action and suspense in NO WAY BACK for two, even three novels. Gross draws on real-world (if under-reported) events to use as a basis for the plots that thread their way through the book, from its violent beginning to its somber yet satisfying ending."
The intruder has homicide on his mind; Wendy witnesses the murder of the man whose embrace she had reluctantly relinquished just moments before, and then winds up killing the murderer in self-defense. She is pursued by a DHS agent almost from the minute she leaves the hotel room. Realizing that she has no choice but to come clean to her husband if she has any hope of salvaging her reputation and saving her life, she returns home and confesses everything to him, including her almost-indiscretion and the horrors that followed. When her trip home turns suddenly and brutally tragic, Wendy goes on the run, using every bit of her knowledge and what few remaining law enforcement contacts she has and can trust as she is pursued by a hunter with the might and majesty of the federal government behind her.
Keep in mind, this is only half of NO WAY BACK. Remember I mentioned there were two women involved in this story? The other is a young Mexican woman named Lauritzia Velez, who has been working quietly as a much-beloved housekeeper for an attorney and his family while hiding a secret past that one day suddenly appears to haunt her. It has the potential to put the family who employs her --- and who she has come to love as much as her own --- in terrible danger. When she reveals that she must leave them in order to save them, they instead attempt to help her, but pay a terrible price in doing so. What neither she nor Wendy knows is that the separate events that cause them both to be pursued have a common nexus, one that ultimately brings them together. In a small southwestern town just north of the U.S. and Mexican border, each woman will face her respective pursuer and acquire peace of mind...or die trying.
There is enough action and suspense in NO WAY BACK for two, even three novels. Gross draws on real-world (if under-reported) events to use as a basis for the plots that thread their way through the book, from its violent beginning to its somber yet satisfying ending. If you are looking for some reading material to bring with you for that entirely too-short but nonetheless welcome spring break, this should be on your packing list.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 5, 2013