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Kathleen Morris
When Nashville singer Grace Whitney and her partner Jack Wilder, on tour with a southern rock band, stop at a lonely Arizona diner at 2 AM and find an abandoned backpack full of $100 bills, Grace takes it. Money like that could make their dreams come true. Instead, it’s the beginning of their worst nightmare. The wayward backpack comes from a drug deal gone sour in Oklahoma City, first stolen by two people looking for a way out of the Reynaldo cartel, Luis Reynaldo’s mistress and his favorite assassin, running for their lives. When Luis discovers they are not among the casualties, he obsessively devotes all his resources to his revenge. Risk is a cat and mouse chase from Arizona to Idaho, but there’s a difference. There’s a big bad wolf on the heels of the cat and the unsuspecting country mice are about to get swallowed up in the fray.
Morris (The Lily Of The West) crafts a thriller that's equal parts romance, character study, and white-knuckle road chase. Jack and Grace, struggling country music singers stuck in a never-ending cycle of dive bars and dead-end gigs, are on tour in the American Southwest when Grace discovers, and takes, a backpack stuffed with close to a million dollars in cash, abandoned in a bathroom stall. The money, a result of a drug deal gone wrong, kickstarts a breakneck chase that leaves behind a trail of bodies and bad decisions – with Jack and Grace caught in the middle.

Morris's focus on character development and skillful rendering of backstories adds a level of richness to an otherwise uncomplicated plot. Ruthless cartel boss Luis brokers the seemingly routine drug deal with hired assassins Roberto and Chang, allowing his enslaved mistress, Angel, to attend, never suspecting her loyalty may not be absolute – and when the deal turns deadly, giving Angel and Chang a chance for freedom, they make off with the money and drugs, in search of a different life. While a furious Luis sets out to hunt down Angel and Chang, Jack and Grace are caught in the crosshairs of their own deadly pursuit, as they try to escape with the stolen money.

The couples are artfully depicted as two sides of the same coin: desperate, unyielding, and willing to do anything in order to outrun their misery. Readers will find themselves sympathizing with all four of the main players, even as they choose gruesome actions to survive, and no one escapes without blood on their hands. The characters are equal parts tough and clever, without coming across as superhuman, and the final confrontation will satisfy even the most astute reader. Morris sacrifices some tension for excessively lurid violence, but fans will relish the journey.

Takeaway: A character-driven road thriller with a touch of romance.

Great for fans of: Stan Parish’s Love and Theft; Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A