Plot: Zell's moderately paced novel evolves into a tense, genre-bending, and climactic adventure beyond the imaginations and anticipations of the twin protagonists.
Prose: Zell's prose is immersive, detailed, and atmospheric, with varied dialogue and tonal shifts.
Originality: Zell's story is centered upon a truly original concept, and the vastly different personalities, interests, and skills of the protagonists. The novel’s fine-tuned sense of place is particularly memorable.
Character Development: Zell's characters may have simple, unassuming facades, but they are multi-layered, complex figures whose interests and goals propel them to seek an escape from their present circumstances and face their greatest fears.
Date Submitted: August 16, 2018
"Steve Zell delivers an edge-of-your seat, page-turning thriller in his latest novel, Urban Limit."
Ken Carroll hasn’t made that golden age of retirement quite yet. However, he has managed to climb high enough on the ladder of notoriety and success with Portland Micro to earn the coveted (and forced) four-month, paid sabbatical. ‘…Seventeen years straight, a long, wide, river of press releases, PowerPoint presentations, and trade shows interrupted by nothing more than his daughter’s weekend sporting events, and an occasional day-trip to the mountains…’ Finally, the dream home and destination were no longer on their distant horizon. It was right in front of them. Ken looked forward to leaving the city behind and moving to the quaint and quiet mountain community of Cedar. He couldn’t wait to reconnect with creating music in his private studio. After all, the past seventeen years were the sacrifice he made for family and work to arrive here now. He was convinced once his family settled into the new state of the art fortress he had built, they would come around. It would be an adjustment, but wasn’t that what life was about? What Ken wasn’t prepared for was the magnitude of adjustment that lie in wait for them and it wouldn’t take long before too much change wasn’t necessarily the plan Ken had in mind.
Amanda Carroll would stand by her man. She was completely committed to making the transition from city to mountains and had spent the previous months preparing their twin teens Kristi and Reed for the drastic change as well. Living in the mountains meant homeschooling for the two. Not quite keen on the matter, they didn’t have much of a voice in changing the situation. Kristi acquiesced once she realized daddy had designed her very own practice ski slope with tow rope to get her back up the hill in their own backyard. Kristi was an Olympic contender and there weren’t many kids on her block who had their very own personal training grounds. In contrast, Reed was a computer nerd. He wanted nothing more than uninterrupted hours to spend lost in the fantasy of Mythykal - his latest fascination in computer games. Indeed, it’s going to be an adjustment for all the Carroll family members. When the mother of all storms begins to brew and is headed straight for their mountain, perhaps Ken should have thought his plan out a bit more thoroughly. By the time the storm passes, lives will change, and some will be lost…forever.
Steve Zell is the master of ramping the goose bump effect early on in this thriller of a story. From the onset, there is a sublime element of foreboding that only builds with intensity from beginning to the bitter end. The characters are superbly developed with their own identities ranging from innocence to blatant selfishness. There is a fantastic tone of foreboding and evil that lurks beneath the surface that moves the story along at a good clip. Mr. Zell has an envious talent of setting each scene with precise description and an intensity that lends way to credible dialogue. It makes for a wonderful ride through terrific peaks and equally low valleys throughout. I have not had the pleasure of reading any of Mr. Zell’s previous works, but certainly have penned him in to do just that and soon. Well done Mr. Zell. I look forward to your next thrilling tale.
Quill says: Be careful what you wish for in your retirement years. When the time comes, what you envisioned may not be what actually comes to pass.
"An unnerving but memorable tale that leaves myriad lingering questions for a prospective sequel."
A move from the city to a new home in the snowy mountains becomes a fight for survival for an Oregon family in this thriller.
Seventeen years of hard work at the tech company Portland Micro has earned Ken Carroll a sabbatical. For his four months of paid vacation, he and his family move to their newly constructed home on Cedar Mountain. It’s especially taxing for Ken’s wife, Amanda, who will miss her city restaurants and yoga classes. But twin teens Kristi and Reed have an easier time adjusting. Olympic hopeful Kristi excels at nearly every sport, but she has plenty of space in the mountains to focus on cross-country skiing, marksmanship, and fencing. And though nerdish Reed would have preferred staying in public school with proximity to female peers, he has ready access to a cherished online game, “Mythykal.” Unfortunately, a blizzard hits, seemingly stranding Amanda in the storm, while danger lurks for the others at home. Wolves in the area often have their eyes firmly on the human “intruders,” and Reed should probably avoid following the Hispanic girl he continually sees in the nearby woods. An attack of some kind is imminent, forcing the Carrolls into a violent confrontation. Much of Zell’s (Running Cold, 2017, etc.) novel thrives on retaining an aura of mystery. Amanda’s fate, for one, isn’t immediately revealed, and there’s a definite menace in the forest, exemplified by unmistakable leeriness from the family’s chocolate Lab, Dog. The author often works this to great effect; in a chilling scene, Reed spots something in an icy creek that apparently rolls over (presumably for a better look at him). Alternating perspectives expand the narrative, eventually including Cedar locals like the sheriff. The twins, however, are the standouts: Kristi displays her prowess in the feverish denouement while Reed, about halfway through, commits an act that will shatter much reader sympathy. But that’s the story’s essence: shocking turns in abundance and generally disturbing.
An unnerving but memorable tale that leaves myriad lingering questions for a prospective sequel.