- The Mark – Jason Pinter
- It – Stephen King
- The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
- The Innocent – Harlan Coben
- Six Years – Harlan Coben
- The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke – Suze Orman
- Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life – Donald Trump
- No Way Back – Andrew Gross
- Sex Money KISS – Gene Simmons
- Napalm & Silly Putty – George Carlin
My only gripe is that in the first few chapters Benjamin Raab is referred to as “Mr. Raab” for what seemed like 100 times. Every time someone addressed this character, especially law enforcement, Gross felt the need to end each sentence of dialogue with the character saying “Mr. Raab.” For example, here are some sentences I made up to illustrate how “Mr. Raab” was used to death in the opening chapters’ dialogue:
“Where were you last night, Mr. Raab?”
“Oh, how interesting, Mr. Raab”
“Why don’t you just tell us the truth, Mr. Raab?”
“How many times do you think I can say ‘Mr. Raab,’ Mr. Raab?”
It drove me out of mind because it was obscenely redundant. When there are two people talking in a scene, it’s OK to mention each character’s name once, but that’s it. Anything more makes for an irritating read. Why not have the characters refer to him as “Ben” once in a while, or, better yet, not address him at all? What made it worse was the audiobook narrator, who was atrocious. Her shrill voice saying “Mr. Raab” made me want to throw my iPhone out the window. Needless to say, don’t listen to the audiobook version of The Blue Zone – go for the print or e-book version instead.
Now that I got that out of my system, let’s get to the good stuff. After getting past the redundant and sometimes superficial dialogue in the beginning of the book, Gross did a terrific job of developing the lead character, Kate. I liked the periodic breaks in the action where she went swimming and reflected on the chaos around her; these scenes, as well as the ones at her job and with her boyfriend, gave the character emotional depth and maturity.
The big twist that took place toward the end of the book was satisfying because I didn’t see it coming and it was believable. It also tested the characters’ limits and, in some cases, revealed true motives. I don’t want to go into further detail because it would spoil it for you.
Take my advice: Despite its initial flaws, The Blue Zone is a taut thriller by a talented author that’s worth the price of admission.
One of the nice features of the audiobook is it included an interview with the author at the end. Below are some highlights from the interview, as well as a synopsis of the book and a couple videos.
Andrew Gross on The Blue Zone
- “At some point, I was waiting for another project from Jim [Patterson]. All of the books originated with his outline. And while I was waiting for maybe a week or two longer than I was comfortable with, I starting noodling an idea out that became the foundation of The Blue Zone. And it was also a very fast process where I worked a fairly extensive outline to it, submitted it to my agent and within, literally, four or five days we had a series of publishers looking at it and bidding on it. So, it was very difficult to turn that down.”
- “It actually had its origins with a dinner party I went to up in West Chester where I met someone who, like the main character, Benjamin Raab, was a jewelry dealer, he was a gold dealer, and absolutely one of the more obnoxious people I ever met. Highly successful. Houses everywhere. His and her Ferraris. Ya know, over the top. And, I guess, about a month later I found out that it had all been a sham and that he was arrested for money laundering, which, at the time, I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable with hearing. But what it struck in me was the chord of how fragile our lives are and how easily not only is it brought down for an individual but for an entire family as well. So, it wasn’t a stretch after that to sort of think of what it would be like if that situation happened in our lives, and, so, that’s basically how The Blue Zone started.”
- “The Witness Protection Program is interesting, but what I found more interesting was the terror of someone who is left behind, in this case, Kate, our protagonist. And, two, I guess the sense of betrayal one feels when you discover that your family, or your father in particular, isn’t the man you’ve always idolized and trusted your whole life, and I think that that is a terror that almost everyone can identify with. And when you have that stripped away, you strip away your entire emotional protection as well, and this is how Kate has to approach things in the book.”
Everything in Kate Raab’s life seems perfect. She has an amazing family, an invigorating job straight out of college, and a boyfriend she adores. Then a phone call changes everything. Her father, a successful businessman, a man she has always trusted and admired, is in trouble with the law. He’s innocent, he insists to his family, but the only way out, is this: his testimony against his accomplices and the immediate placement of his family deep inside the Witness Protection Program. He accepts, and everyone prepares to go into hiding—until one of them suddenly gets cold feet. In a flash, Kate’s perfect life is gone.
Now, a year later, her worst fears have happened. Kate’s father suddenly disappears—into what the WITSEC agency calls the Blue Zone—and someone very important to him is found brutally murdered. As Kate digs into her father’s life, the shocking truth she finds sets in motion a decades-old vendetta. With her family under watch, with the FBI untrustworthy, and her father’s menacing “friends” circling her with increasing intensity, Kate alone must set off on the life and death journey to find her father, and uncover the secrets someone will kill to keep buried.
Harlan Coben once said that every now and then he spends time with Lee Child, Nelson DeMille and Mary Higgins Clark. Do you have similar get-togethers with any of your fellow writers, and if so, what do you talk about?
Well, I have a few authors I knock around with every once in a while: Michael Palmer, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Dottie Benton Frank – not a mystery/thriller writer but a bestseller. Mostly we just grumble how the business has changed. I gotta tell you, if there’s one thing I hate to talk about out of the office it’s books! I’d rather talk about politics and hockey. I actually know more investment bankers than authors. But I can’t talk politics with any of them.
Do you still keep in touch with James Patterson and do you plan on working with him again in the future?
I can’t say we’re on the same circuit these days. I actually run into him every once in a while in Florida. We both have homes in Palm Beach, his is just slightly grander than mine – by a factor of ten! He goes to the movies a lot and we might bump into each other and have a bite after.
No, not sure it will work out on the collaborative front. Though I’d probably find it fun to do so once more. I mean, if the Eagles could get back together… But it’s usually not a good career sign if you have to go back to co-writing…
Your new book, No Way Back, is focused on the lives of two women in dire straits and how their lives intersect. What was your inspiration for this story?
I had three inspirations when it came to No Way Back. And for most books, for me, it’s more like a triangulation than an epiphany. First, the idea of a woman who gets into a situation way over her head by foolishly sleeping with someone who turns out to be a different guy than she anticipated, and then she gets caught in his hotel room where a murder takes place, and she’s the only witness. I loved the dilemma: Does she turn herself in, but then have to explain where she was to her husband and kids and maybe have her life fall apart. Of course, in No Way Back the choice is made for Wendy and she’s on the hook for two murders. The other two were things I read–one an editorial about a criminal who turned state’s evidence but the guy he was informing on one-by-one killed his children in retribution, and the U.S. government refused to take them into protective custody. Totally heartbreaking. The last was a very compelling article on the border drug wars between El Paso, Texas and Juarez. Each of these stories led to one of my main characters.
What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
The hardest part is coming up with great initial ideas. It’s all in the set-up for me – drawing a sympathetic, everyday character into a disastrous situation they cannot get out of. Those things are hard for me; executing is easy. I come up with hopefully one per year–that’s all I need. Patterson might come up with one a month!
Are you already working on your next book, and will it feature Ty Hauck?
Well, sure, I’m midway through my next book and still behind. It’s a similarly structured book to No Way Back: A mom with a handicapped kid who’s just lost her job accidentally comes on a cache of money. And like a lot of my books–one bad or foolish act begets a ton of unforeseeable consequences. Sadly, Ty is on a beach somewhere working on his tan. Or on Naomi. My publisher likes these standalones for the moment, so Ty has had to wait. At least one more book.
Gross cut his teeth writing captivating thrillers with James Patterson, and No Way Back shows how he’s honed his craft since then. It features believable characters in against-the-odds situations that’ll make you think, “What would I do?” If you’re a fan of intricately-crafted, fast-paced thrillers filled with intrigue, you should check out No Way Back. I highly recommend it.
If you’re interested in learning more about Andrew Gross and No Way Back, make sure to check out my interview with him.
Wendy Gould is an attractive, happy suburban mom, and an experienced ex-cop. A chance meeting with a stranger in a hotel ends when the man is murdered and she’s the only witness, forcing her to run from rogue federal agents determined to keep her silent, even if it means killing her. Things only get worse when the authorities—the wrong ones—find their way to her door, giving her no recourse but to flee from her only safe haven.
Lauritzia Velez, meanwhile, is a devoted nanny. She’s also a woman with a deadly secret that has driven her into hiding until she can prove her innocence.
Scared and alone, these two women with nothing in common will eventually join forces and embark on a dangerous odyssey to find the truth and save their lives. It’s a desperate hunt that leads them into a nefarious web of treachery, lies, and corruption involving drug lords, arms dealers, and shadowy figures in the highest echelons of government.
A breathtaking tale featuring two strong, sympathetic women who must rely on each other to take down powerful, lethal forces, No Way Back is a riveting tale full of twists and thrilling surprises from the bestselling author who is “coming up on the rails behind Harlan Coben and Lee Child” (Evening Standard, U.K.).