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If She Wakes


If She Wakes

If you read the memoir THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY or saw the award-winning film of the same name, then you are familiar with locked-in syndrome. Patients appear to be in a coma but are actually fully conscious and aware of everything going on around them. The issue is that they cannot move at all or respond in any way other than blinking an eye or sometimes slightly moving one of their fingers. It is this nightmarish condition with which the protagonist of IF SHE WAKES is afflicted.

Michael Koryta's novels have received the highest praise from critics and colleagues alike, and his stories have run the gamut from crime noir to thriller to straight-up horror. That being said, he has never created a character as unique as Tara Beckley. Along with this assertion, there must be darkness equal to the light that Tara represents. To that effect, we have perhaps the darkest character Koryta has ever written: the youthful sociopath known simply as Dax. More on him in a moment.

"IF SHE WAKES is a clever thriller with a highly unique set of circumstances and characters that, in the hands of Koryta, makes for one dynamic read."

When IF SHE WAKES opens, we find Tara in perfect health and enjoying life as a senior at Hammel College in Maine. She is tasked with picking up a visiting guest, Professor Amandi Oltamu, from his dinner and taking him to a conference at Hammel, where he is to be the keynote speaker. The organizer of the event is a stickler for timeliness, and Tara is under strict orders to deliver Oltamu no later than 7:45pm. Tara and Oltamu get on well enough, although she thinks there is something odd about him.

At one point during the short drive, Oltamu requests that Tara stop the car so they can walk the rest of the way. He wants her to take a photo with him and snaps a picture of a local stray dog that she knows as Hobo. He then asks her to put his phone in her car as he walks the remainder of the way over a bridge that leads to the campus. Unfortunately, neither of them gets anywhere as a black van comes hurtling towards them at high speed. A moment later, everything goes black for Tara. Initially, there is no reason given for Carlos Ramirez smashing into Tara's parked vehicle, but the accident leaves Oltamu dead and Tara in a coma. It is now up to Abby Kaplan, the insurance investigator, to try and piece everything together.

Tara lies in a hospital room in a vegetative state, and it is not long before she is diagnosed as suffering from locked-in syndrome. She feels like a ghost whereby her body is gone, but she is still totally aware of everyone around her and what they are saying about her. Tara's family is present, and her sister, Shannon, who is soon to be an attorney, takes the lead in representing her and speaking with her doctors. Shannon is also dealing with Abby, who informs them that Carlos has been found shot to death in a stolen car. Abby realizes that something far more sinister is at play, and the only one still around who may have seen enough to figure out what is really going on is Tara.

As Abby takes her investigation further, she finds a trail that leads to some very bad people who all want one thing: Professor Oltamu's phone, which was last in the possession of Tara. One of these individuals is a teen who at first sight would not intimidate anyone. That would be a huge mistake, for this young man is Dax Blackwell, who comes from a family that is deep into criminal activity. Dax is also an extremely clever psychopath who utilizes the natural way people underestimate him to his advantage --- and he would not think twice about killing anyone in his way. Abby is about to be the next fly to step into Dax's spiderweb. He will keep her trapped just long enough to determine if Tara could spill the beans to her family and doctors, or if she finally wakes up and needs to be permanently silenced.

Meanwhile, once everyone realizes that Tara is completely alert, they find a way to communicate with her through her eye movements --- looking up once for yes and twice for no. Because this is a Michael Koryta novel, you realize that you may not be able to trust everyone involved. Shannon has the same feeling and begins to suspect that the primary physician on the case, Dr. Pine, may have other interests in finding out what Tara last remembers before her accident.

Nothing will work out predictably, and readers will be glued to their seats and as powerless as the unmoving Tara Beckley while one explosive event after another plays out before them. IF SHE WAKES is a clever thriller with a highly unique set of circumstances and characters that, in the hands of Koryta, makes for one dynamic read.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 17, 2019

If She Wakes
by Michael Koryta

  • Publication Date: March 24, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316293970
  • ISBN-13: 9780316293976