John J. Nance’s seventeenth book, Saving Cascadia, departs from the formula used in many of his earlier novels, which focused much of the action in airplanes. While fans of the genre may be disappointed in this new direction, they will still get some edge-of-their-seat flying time - in helicopters rather than jetliners – combined with a ticking time-bomb in the form of an earthquake.
Seismologist Dr. Doug Lam has spent years researching his theory of Resonant Amplication: the idea that continuous small resonances sent into a “locked zone” can eventually trigger the big one for the Pacific Northwest, an earthquake larger than any the region has seen since the Alaska earthquake of 1964 or the largest tsunami to hit the region, which was triggered by a massive earthquake in 1700. For 300 years, seismic activity has been building up in the Quilieute Quiet Zone, just waiting for the trigger to release another magnitude nine-plus earthquake.
All someone needs to do to trigger that major catastrophe is to “pull the plug” on the pent-up seismic activity, and construction of Cascadia Island’s new casino resort may have done just that. Now Doug has to figure out a way to stop the devastating tsunami he knows could take many lives at any moment and save the woman he loves.
Saving Cascadia has all the requisite features of an eco-thriller: a discredited scientist, impending natural disaster, politicians who refuse to see the truth, conflict between family members, and a heroine on the run from unknown bad guys. Rather than allowing this novel to become just another formulaic thriller, Nance uses his significant scientific knowledge to raise the bar for the rest of the genre.
Having completed extensive research for his 1988 book on earthquakes, On Shaky Ground, Nance is dealing with familiar subject matter in this offering. Solid research is a prerequisite for any author who wishes to add a true psychological thrill to their adventure tale. Presenting a scenario that has the potential to happen creates greater tension and engages the reader’s imagination more quickly. Here Nance handles the earthquake research with confidence, providing enough context to create credibility without bogging down the pacing with too much background.
Where Saving Cascadia does fall flat is in the romance between Doug and Jennifer Lindstrom (pilot and CEO of Nightingale Aviation). The relationship feels forced, as if it was added purely to create additional tension, but only succeeds in hindering the exact tension it was meant to enhance. Since there seems to be little spark there, Jennifer’s supposed jealousy feels contrived and distracts from the action spinning quickly out of control.
Nance displays a much more able hand in the relationship between Jennifer and her father, Sven. The complex psychological mess swirling between them rings true and aids in fleshing out both their characters, while also ratcheting up the price-tag on the natural disaster when their conflict threatens to hinder rescue operations. The believability of these characters creates a stronger emotional bond for the reader, pulling them deeper into Nance’s world.
Unlike many fast-paced thrillers, the surprise twist in Saving Cascadia comes completely out of left field and took this reader by surprise. In hindsight, the clues are present, but so well integrated into the plot that they do’t stand out like a beacon in a lighthouse.
John J. Nance has built an impressive body of work since first publishing in 1990: thirteen fiction and five nonfiction books. A licensed commercial pilot, veteran of the U.S. Air Force, internationally recognized air safety analyst and advocate, author and public speaker, he folds all this technical knowledge into his writing. Saving Cascadia, released at the end of January 2006 in mass market paperback, and the soon to be released Orbit (March 2006) are his newest works.