Quite a change from the last book I reviewed, which was the slow and gentle Tender Grace by Jackina Stark (read my review here if you missed it). James Hannibal’s books are always a toss-up for me. I enjoy his style and characterization, but often his thrillers are a bit too dark or gruesome for me. I enjoy a good-guys-vs.-bad-guys story as much as the next girl, but most thrillers leave me with a sense of sorrow over the cavalier loss of life, and it’s especially sad when, as in this book, the victims involve young people making really bad choices. Those general thoughts apply to this book as well: great style, characters, and action, but not for sensitive readers (which I often am).
The fact that the book opens with an up-close-and-personal view of brain surgery is a good indication of the type of suspense we’re talking about here. Hannibal’s attention to research and detail really made the medical scenes come alive. Honestly, though, I loved having a neurosurgeon as the male lead in this book. Neuroscience has always fascinated me, so although we didn’t get much detail into the processes of Peter’s profession, his character intrigued me. Not to mention, he’s British. I had forgotten that when I started the book, but as soon as it was brought to my attention, I could easily hear his cocky British accent. Because, yes, Peter is cocky. He’s the sort of character who would irritate me no end in real life but is such fun to read about. The clash between British dialect and Hawaiian dialect was especially fun.
In fact, I loved all the banter between various characters. Hannibal does that sort of thing very well, and it made the characters in this book seem nicely three-dimensional, with plenty of complex relationship dynamics between them. I could feel Peter’s drive and struggle for control, and the emotional wringer he went through when he couldn’t save someone. I loved that he was the type to rush headlong into danger if it meant doing the right thing, even if it wasn’t always for the right reasons. I’m not typically a fan of the tough-cop female lead, and this book was no exception to my rule, but Lisa also had her empathetic moments, and the dynamic between her and Peter was…well, there was a good deal of head-butting, but mostly in an enjoyable way. Tuna and Lisa’s brothers were nice additions, making for both lighthearted and serious moments. The lack of romance was refreshing, especially since Lisa was a Christian and Peter was not.
Which leads me to my next point. I loved Peter’s slow turn from openly professing atheism to considering Christianity. But the weird effects of his near-death experience felt kind of unexplained to me when all was said and done, and I really wished his turn toward the Lord had gone farther. By the end of the book, it was impossible to tell if he really knew what true Christianity meant or if he was just considering that it might be time to acknowledge God’s existence and control—a first step, yes, but not necessarily the resolution I was hoping for. By the same token, I really appreciated that Lisa mentioned her faith (and regretted not sharing it) as much as she did, but I didn’t see much of its effect on her life. She had some very unchristian attitudes at various points, especially in her work interactions, and although it’s completely normal for a Christian to have attitude problems, I wanted to see her actively fighting those attitudes and talking to the Lord about them, not deciding that nothing in the Bible precluded her from enjoying watching her rival squirm.
As to the mystery itself—yes, there were a few gruesome details, although they were mostly handled in a fairly clinical manner (another benefit of a neurosurgeon for a hero). The plot was extremely twisty—every time I thought they’d finally nailed the bad guy, there would be another bad guy waiting in the wings. The final climax was a bit disappointing to me—not because it didn’t fulfill the story, but just because it was sad. I would have been happy to stop with one of the big shootout moments or false-identity reveals. But everything came together well, and although it was complex, I didn’t end the story feeling ridiculously befuddled and wanting to go back and read everything again to figure out what just happened. Although I wouldn’t mind reading some parts again, because Peter is my favorite atheist hero at the moment.
Kudos to Mr. Hannibal for a tense, multifaceted thriller with some great characters and a few thoughtful moments as well. Don’t read this unless you’re okay with losing sleep.