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A Suspenseful Country Noir: The Captive

24 Mar

Typically, I’m not drawn to fast-paced, high-tension adventure stories that pit man against nature  in a survival of the fittest scenario. However, Fiona King Foster’s debut novel The Captive is not only a propulsive wilderness adventure, but a suspenseful and tightly written country noir with considerable plot substance and gritty well-developed characters. I was lured in by the author’s  vivid descriptions of what seemed like an Old West landscape and a family struggling to survive  during a harrowing exploration of loyalty, trauma and resilience. 

Brooke Holland, once involved with her family’s drug war with the rival Cawley clan, has  established a new identity with her husband Milo and her two preteen daughters, who knows nothing of her violent past. They are content operating a small farm in the remote wilderness, miles from any form of established civilization. All seems well until Brooke learns that Stephen Cawley has escaped federal prison and is probably hunting for her with the intent of settling an  old score. When Cawley raids their farm, Brooke subdues him and attempts to transport him on foot to a distant federal outpost, thereby claiming the $5,000 bounty, which could save their  failing farm. Thus, she begins a harrowing trek with her husband and children across a forbidding and dangerous winter landscape. 

Along the treacherous journey, Foster intersperses detailed flashbacks from Brooke’s past, which further propel the current tension and danger and allows the reader to feel compassion for her as she develops a steely determination to save her loved ones. The rough winter poses obstacles and various unsavory and ruthless characters that they meet along the way pose threats to Brooke’s ultimate plan. Even getting separated from her children during a winter blizzard adds suspense to this fast-paced adventure and keeps the adrenaline pumping. 

The suspenseful thriller builds as strained family dynamics are brought to a breaking point and old wounds between rival family drug wars resurface. The ghosts, both real and imagined, from  Brooke’s past still haunt her and she questions her motives and well as her actions and the  consequences they may have. Ultimately, the chilling adventure leads to an explosive climax  involving an intense stand-off, a fire, and a gun-shooting duel, all reminiscent of the wild west.  Granted, this denouement may seem outlandish and larger than life, but it seems to fit the suspenseful buildup and tension and gives the reader a sense of hope for Brooke, her family and  their future. 

Available from Hoboken and other BCCLS libraries.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Information and Digital Services Librarian

Hope in the Face of Uncertainty: One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney

24 Feb

In an age where churches are facing a significant membership decline and many Americans are deviating from formal religion, comes the compelling and poignant novel One Night Two Souls Went Walking by the award-winning author Ellen Cooney. The protagonist, a young female hospital chaplain, who remains unnamed, is struggling with her faith and fears that her “soul is broken,” because she has not subscribed to any formal religion in years. However, she has been given the responsibility of tending to the souls of her patients during the hospital’s quiet and eerie night shift and offering them consolation during their suffering and in some cases final moments.

She is an unorthodox chaplain, because she tends to wear her white collar with bright-colored blouses rather than clerical black and her hair is often tangled and unmanageable. She also lacks confidence in her ministerial duties and has low self-esteem. However, her patients welcome her calm and quiet bedside manner and feel more than free to share their life’s regrets and cardinal sins with her. There is the cranky bus driver involved in a crash where four people died, the obese bank teller who wants to be sure the angel carrying her into the afterlife is strong enough not to drop her, and the frail elderly woman who has had a stroke and is unable to speak but does not want to be admitted. Then, there is the former airport employee who ironically never flew and, in his last moments of life, wants her to speak to him as if he is on a plane that is about to take off. However, her most challenging and heart wrenching patient is the fifteen-year-old paralyzed surfer who is the sole survivor of a rock-climbing accident and must now learn how to surf in his head with her guidance. As her stressful and draining evening shift wears on, a therapy dog suddenly appears with a gift for providing comfort to the patients, but is this dog real or a ghost, because he disappears as quickly as he appeared and no one else can see him except the patients and the chaplain.

Although the story unfolds over the course of one night, Cooney’s uplifting novel captures the interior lives of the chaplain and her patients with great warmth and depth, evoking the challenges and rewards in moments of fear and pain. One Night Two Souls Went Walking captures extraordinary moments of sadness, pain, and grace as one woman attempts to bring light and a sense of magic to some of life’s darkest moments. In this age of uncertainty and skepticism, Cooney’s novel is refreshing and restores a sense of hope and faith in spirituality. You can borrow it as an ebook from from Hoopla or as print copy from Hoboken and other BCCLS libraries.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Information and Digital Services Librarian

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