My two favorite elements of Sandra Brown’s fine thriller novels are the characters and the plots. Her characters are instantly memorable and distinguishable from their peers, and remain so throughout the narrative. Her plots are complex, and spin out in directions both unanticipated and otherwise, but one never feels lost or confused (or tangled), no matter how things intersect. I occasionally get frustrated by novels with what I call “too many rooms, and not enough doors.” That doesn’t happen in Brown’s novels, and her readers are the richer for it.
DEADLINE, Brown’s latest offering, provides the complexity her readers have come to expect and demand, and combines that element with perfect pacing and some “real world” background. Dawson Scott is a highly respected, if not frequently rewarded, investigative journalist for a major news magazine. As the story opens (following a Prologue set in 1976), Scott has just returned from Afghanistan where his experiences have resulted in a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He receives no sympathy from his newly appointed editor, a feminist fireball with whom he clashed frequently in the past when they were on more equal footing. As revenge, Scott is assigned to a story that is so far beneath him that sunlight needs to be pumped to it. Ever the professional, Scott is about to begin work on his assignment when he receives news of a far more interesting story that is much better suited for his considerable abilities.
"Sandra Brown, who has had a long and illustrious writing career, shows no sign of slowing down or repeating herself in DEADLINE. Indeed, the book is built upon some of her most interesting characters and creative plot twists to date."
Willard Strong is accused of murdering his wife, Darlene, and her paramour, a former Marine named Jeremy Wesson. There are a couple of interesting wrinkles to the case that raise it above the usual reality television fodder: although it appears that Wesson was murdered, his body was never found; and, notwithstanding his Marine background, Wesson is the biological son of Carl Wingert and Flora Stimel, who were members of a homegrown terrorist group. They disappeared some 30-odd years before and have been presumed to be dead.
While attending the trial, Scott finds himself attracted to Amelia Nolan, Wesson’s estranged wife, who is testifying on behalf of the prosecution. Scott begins wooing (do people still say that?) Nolan with some degree of success. But strange things begin happening around Nolan and her young children, and when events take a tragic turn, the shadow of suspicion falls upon Nolan. That naturally gives him reason to report the story, as well as initiative to clear himself
Meanwhile, the reader is intermittently fed portions of Stimel’s diary, which answers some questions of the past while raising new mysteries --- and providing a few answers --- in the present. Bombshells go off throughout, with a grand finale at the end; though you may guess at least some of them, it is doubtful you will figure them all out by book’s end.
Sandra Brown, who has had a long and illustrious writing career, shows no sign of slowing down or repeating herself in DEADLINE. Indeed, the book is built upon some of her most interesting characters and creative plot twists to date. This is one for fans old and new alike.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 27, 2013