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Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Hail Mary by Todd Travis (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


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OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Jacob Thorne wakes in a locked room, his arms and legs handcuffed to a chair, an IV in his elbow attached to a bag of saline solution. A note informs him to make the liquid last, as that it is all he gets. Emma Kane is abducted by armed mercenaries told that unless she finds the missing daughter of a ruthless billionaire, her partner and lover Jacob Thorne will die of thirst, trapped in a hidden room.

She has eleven days before his fluid runs out to crack a three-year-old cold case that no one has yet been able to solve. This is the wealthy father’s Hail Mary plan to save his daughter before she’s murdered by an unknown kidnapper.

Will Kane find the missing girl before her lover dies? Do Thorne and Kane have a Hail Mary plan of their own, before it’s too late?

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As far serial killer thrillers go, Silence Of The Lambs casts a big shadow among the books and the film genre. Since then many writers have taken their shot and given their versions of creepy serial killer stories and have left their individual marks. serial killer thrillers have their own tropes as do epic fantasies and it’s rare to find stories that are set within the mold but have their own twists. Author Todd Travis debuted with Creatures Of Appetite in 2013 and came to my notice in the end of 2016 when I first read it. It introduced us to two characters Emma Kane & Jacob Thorne who were unlike any I’ve read in this genre. The first book was also set in Nebraska unlike the urban settings which are usually to be found in such stories. The way the story ended, I was a fan and I definitely wasn’t alone. The next book was the one that cemented Todd Travis’s status in my mind. The third book was a prequel and focused on both the protagonist’s pasts.

The most recent book (the fourth of the series) is actually a sequel in terms of chronology to Trophies (book 2) and is set nearly two months later than the climax of Trophies. We meet Emma and Jacob as they arise thoroughly changed after the ferocious events of the  climax of Trophies. Emma is back from her sojourn outside the country and is looking forward to her reunion with Jacob. Thorne on the other hand is even more gung-ho about it as he looks forward to seeing how Emma emerges amidst her recent turmoil. But before they can meet, Jacob unceremoniously is disappeared of the face of the earth. Emma is told about his abduction and given a mission by a billionaire to find his daughter who’s trial has long gone cold. Told that she has eleven days to find any trace of his daughter before Jacob Thorne dies. Emma is once again forced into machinations by the wealthy and will have to go even further than before to locate the missing daughter, potentially rescue Jacob and also deal with security that has been assigned to her.

As you can see from the chaotic description, there’s a solid timeclock running in the background to this chapter. After the fantastic events showcased in Trophies, I enjoyed how the author undercut reader expectations by not directly giving us a sequel (he did something similar with the second book as it was set seven years later than the events of the first). This book allows the readers to get immersed in to the world and timeline when we last read about Kane & Thorne. The book’s pace is solid as ever and the storyline is twisted, dark and almost entirely unpredictable as its predecessors.

As always it’s the characters who stand prominent in the story, Emma Kane and Jacob Thorne are disturbing & scary individuals (to put it mildly). Readers got to see why Jacob is the way he is, through events showcased in Talents. In this book, we get another solid peek into his childhood and the beginnings of who he is. Jacob Thorne whom we have met before is a gruff, scary, asshole whose genius level IQ predisposes him to hate humanity. Emma Kane on the other hand is a hero in the most solid, badass meaning of the word. However since Trophies, we have seen her actions blur the line between outright heroism and vigilante justice. The events in this book are a similar step in this direction but as was the case in the previous chronological story, the actions are entirely warranted and none of the readers would fault her for that. In a way, I feel that these books are character studies of two people who could go in either direction of heroism or vigilantism but the readers will be riveted nonetheless. Todd Travis’ world is a dark one and the author doesn’t pull any punches in mirroring certain current realities to make the stories gritty beyond most others in the genre. The story touched upon several levels & types of abuse (psychological, sexual, parental, etc.) and for those who prefer their fiction light might most definitely want to avoid this series.

This realism as well as the rich characters make his stories stand out easily, the twisted plot and the breakneck pace are the cherry atop this dark, imaginative cake. New readers will be shocked and certainly want to know more, returning readers will get their viewpoints clarified that much more. Lastly the way this book ends, I most certainly want to know what happens next, I love how the author achieved this without a cliffhanger. There’s also the humor which is present sneakily but it certainly delivers and I couldn’t stop guffawing over this line “I always said I was one harassment claim away from being shit-canned, and here we go.” You would have to read the story to understand the context and hopefully you'll find it as hilarious as the author intended it to be.

Unlike Trophies, which for me a five star read, there are some stumbling blocks to this story. Firstly there’s a side character who I felt was a bit wasted, what I mean is that the character’s arc is set up tantalizingly but the resolution seemed a bit haphazard and definitely not up to the standards that Todd Travis has so efficiently exhibited. Also the story’s epilogue also stretches credulity beyond what has been so thoroughly established in this story. This would be a personal grouse and I’m sure there will be readers who don’t even notice it.

CONCLUSION: The Hail Mary is a stunner of a story exactly as the author planned it to be, I had a couple of minor reservations about it but in no way did those stop me from enjoying this book. The Hail Mary is exactly what thriller readers want, a deep dark dive in to the human abyss wherein two souls who are all but warriors in name, showcase their version of justice and cruelty.

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