The first chapter of Earl Emersonís Primal Threat begins dramatically, with a rescue and a quickening heart, as the savior cradles the trapped woman in his arms. Primal Threat involves the senses and emotions from the very first page, and Emerson definitely delivers on action and sentiment without dipping into the sappy.
It peters off a bit from that opening wow, with several short (but seemingly quite long) detailed chapters about the mechanics of biking before anything more happens to advance the story. Zak, a seasoned fireman, harbors deep regret and insecurities born of a childhood incident that has always overshadowed his life and serves to make him strive harder in everything he does. Nadine is the young tennis player from a wealthy family who has caught his interest. A careful, slow relationship builds between them, with the picturesque Pacific Northwest as a backdrop.
The writing is clear and concise, with little mincing and no room for analogies or in-depth descriptions after a specific turning point. The story itself rests on action, action that unfortunately is somewhat slow to develop. The tale is of two groups: a group of bicyclists who set out on a hot Washington day to camp out in the mountains, and a group of young, rich joy-riders in Jeeps bent on vengeful pleasure. Two groups, and the mountain, which becomes nearly a character in its own right for the purposes of the tale being told.
Reading this book is like running a deadly race, hastening the heartbeat and making the breath come shallowly. Muscles grow tight and shaky, and events happen almost too quickly to mentally keep up with. Emerson slowly doles out bits of action and motive - bouncing between the opposing sides - as the body count piles up in a deadly game of hide and seek among the wildfires. His grasp of human nature is almost creepy, because the twisted emotions seem dead on through the story.
Not having read any of Earl Emersonís books before, I had no expectations or preconceived notions going in. I now count myself as an avid fan. Primal Threat is infuriatingly slow, but when it gets going, the momentum keeps the pages turning until the back cover is closed. As thrillers go, this one is ultimately fast-paced and completely absorbing.