One of my favorite elements of suspense is something I call the “gasp factor”—the number of times and ways the author surprises the reader with a development in plot or character. It’s that twist in the story you didn’t see coming or the secret revealed that you never even suspected. The more gasps in the story, the higher it ranks on the satisfaction meter. New York Times Best-Selling author Sandra Brown definitely tops the gasp-factor chart with her latest release, Deadline.
The story revolves around FBI agent Gary Headly’s career-long pursuit of domestic terrorist Carl Wingert. Having lost track of Wingert after a violent showdown at the terrorist group’s compound over thirty years ago, the soon-to-be-retired Headly despairs of finding this particular fugitive before he hands in his badge.
But evidence revealed in a Savannah, Georgia, murder trial links one of the victims to Wingert. Headly must follow this new lead without alerting Wingert to the fact that he’s made the connection, so he sends his godson, news magazine reporter Dawson Scott, to Savannah to cover the trial.
Dawson doesn’t want to go. His recent assignment in Afghanistan still haunts, leaving him fighting a secret battle with sleeplessness and depression. Though he realizes he needs to take a decisive step back into everyday life, Dawson would prefer to avoid delving into the tragic death of decorated Marine Captain Jeremy Wesson. Though Wesson’s body was not found, his DNA links him to Wingert. Dawson doubts a dead man can lead them to one of the FBI’s most wanted—unless he’s not really dead.
In order to find out more about Wesson’s past, Dawson befriends the former Marine’s widow, Amelia Nolan. She and her two young sons are making a concerted effort to recover from a year of turmoil and loss. After living through Jeremy’s PTSD-related anger and abuse, and grieving her father’s unexpected death, Amelia hopes that getting through her ex-husband’s murder trial will mark the end of their heartache.
She had no way of knowing that the trial would launch her right back into the thick of the fight. Within days of her testimony, Amelia begins to notice strange happenings around her beach house. Broken toys are mysteriously fixed or replaced, pictures disappear, and she has the eerie feeling she’s being watched. When she finds Dawson next door snapping photos of her sons, she rails at him, but soon discovers that though he’s covering a story, he’s not the one fixing toys and stealing photos.
Though her trust is hard won, Amelia begins to rely on Dawson. His honesty with her and his gentleness with her sons awaken feelings inside her that she thought were long dead, but regardless of their deepening relationship, she cannot accept his explanation for the mysterious goings-on surrounding her family. Jeremy cannot still be alive. What possible reason would he have to fake his own death?
It’s not until her sons’ nanny is killed that Amelia realizes Dawson may be right. Stephanie DeMarco had taken Amelia’s car into town, had been wearing Amelia’s rain slicker, and had been struck in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. Though the police follow all possible leads, they are perplexed by one particular piece of evidence: one of the fingerprints lifted from the rain slicker belonged to Jeremy Wesson.
This evidence provides the foot in the door Agent Headly needs to launch a full-scale FBI investigation into Jeremy Wesson and his connection to Carl Wingert. Headly’s arrival in Savannah raises the stakes. Wingert now knows he’s being hunted, but instead of running, he decides to deal with Headly once and for all. Determined to wreak as much havoc as possible, Wingert sets a plan into motion that will not only bring Headly down but will get rid of Amelia so Jeremy can claim his sons.
This final showdown covers the last third of the book and includes all the best elements of an unforgettable read: a race against time, imminent danger for more than one character, surprising revelations, and an unpredictable resolution.
The pace of this suspense thriller is perfect. The meticulous balance between plot-driven and character-driven events keeps the reader continuously engaged. The narrative volleys between the rapid-fire movement of the FBI manhunt and the ongoing emotional battle Dawson fights within himself. Each progression leads to the next with just enough of a pause in between for the reader to catch her breath and hurry to the next page.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a Sandra Brown novel, and after picking this one up, I remembered all the things that originally drew me to her work. Her ability to draw readers into the action, connect with readers through her characters, and consistently deliver satisfying endings makes her a favorite go-to author in the suspense genre.
This book is a great read for anyone who enjoys the gasp factor as much as I do, but because of the violence, strong language, and sexual situations within the story, I would recommend it for mature readers only.
You can find out more about Sandra and her books on her website.
~Vickie Price Taylor