There has been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding LETHAL, Sandra Brown’s new thriller. This is over and above what one would normally expect from an author who is already a household name and who consistently hits the top of the bestseller lists with each new book. After reading just a few pages of her latest novel, you will quickly come to the conclusion that the buzz is understated. In the middle of a literary career that has spanned decades, Brown may have produced her best work to date.
"LETHAL is a whodunit and a whydunit, and while you may guess an element or two of its significant mysteries, you will never figure them all out."
In the first hundred pages or so, Brown carefully sets up an exciting and suspenseful scenario. The police in rural Tambour, Louisiana, are called to the offices of the Royale Trucking Company, which is the scene of multiple murders. The seven victims, all associated with the company, include Sam Marset, Royale's beloved and respected owner. The prime suspect is immediately identified as a recently hired Royale employee named Lee Colburn, and a pursuit party is quickly organized.
Meanwhile, Coburn has taken a widow named Honor Gillette and her four-year-old daughter, Emily, as hostages in their own home. Honor's late husband, Eddie, was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty. She’s shocked when Coburn, a wanted fugitive, appears to have personal knowledge concerning Eddie and begins tearing Honor's house apart in search of an object that Coburn insists Eddie had in his possession and that puts Honor and Emily in the path of a lethal danger. The source of the danger is an enigmatic and ruthless figure known as the Bookkeeper, whose practice of leaving no loose ends resulted in the murders. Several different parties with adverse interests but similar goals play cat and mouse with each other, as they all pursue Coburn with deadly intent.
The foregoing takes place just within the first fourth or so of the book. Brown could have written an enthralling story simply by following what she so painstakingly created in the beginning. But what she does instead is set up this intricate, suspenseful and involving set of circumstances, then knock down and tear apart everything you thought you knew and believed. Of course she does not hit the "pause" button and then reset; no, the action rolls along down a path full of twists and turns, so that by the end, you will be as likely as not to believe that poor little Emily is behind the carnage.
LETHAL is a whodunit and a whydunit, and while you may guess an element or two of its significant mysteries, you will never figure them all out. And yes, there are some very hot passages between the sheets (I mean covers) of the novel, so that when you're not gripping the book so hard that you're leaving indentations in the cover, you'll be getting steam burns on your fingers. Seriously. Regardless of why you read it, LETHAL is a masterwork by a master of suspense.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 19, 2011