Coulda been a contender, but for lines like “the dispersing storm clouds looked like gray brains.” The Breathtaker actually has an interesting premise: a serial killer who strikes during the tornadoes that touch down along the open spaces of Tornado Alley, from Oklahoma to Texas.
After each tornado, when the damage is assessed and emergency crews are sorting through the debris, some bodies are found, horribly mutilated -- but not from Nature’s fury. The serial killer is obviously taking advantage of the cover provided by the roaring funnels as they touch down, devastating everything in the way.
To my disappointment, given the potential of the plot, Alice Blanchard does not spend sufficient time on character definition; the protagonists merely serve as cardboard cutouts instead of fully fleshed and complex human beings. For example, Sheriff Charlie Grover grew up in a severely abusive household, beaten by his father and left covered with burn scars from the fire that killed his mother and baby sister. Charlie emotes the appropriate rage given the circumstances, but none of the other characteristics a survivor would exhibit. He has not survived his past but become a victim of it. In the same fashion, other characters who have been through horrible circumstances as children express their anger but display no other emotions.
The rest of the characters are equally as facile, which serves the story well enough but doesn’t keep me from reflecting on what a young Dean Koontz could do with this plot. Make no mistake: The Breathtaker will enjoy popular sales, but the novel has the potential to be so much more satisfying, given the intricacies of human nature. By all accounts, the people who fill these pages have little joy in their lives, and are described with a subtle condescension by the author.
In searching for the killer, Sheriff Grover hooks up with a female storm-tracker/scientist, building a profile as more bodies collect with each new tornado. The sheriff has some suspicion, which cause him much personal discomfort. The closer Charlie gets to the suspect, the more he is forced to challenge some long-held beliefs. When he sets his sights on the real culprit, Grover has more to tangle with than weather, caught between murder and Nature’s own mayhem.