Vicki Pettersson
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Buy *Swerve* by Vicki Petterssononline

Vicki Pettersson
Gallery Books
352 pages
July 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A bloody, grueling cat-and-mouse game is propelled across the desert from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Lake Arrowhead, California, a vicious countdown commemorated by ever more gruesome landmarks as Kristine Rush drives like a madwoman from one map fragment to another in an effort to save her fiancé from certain death. Swervepresents one of those harrowing scenarios that arrive out of nowhere. A couple on a road trip, Kristine accompaniesg her fiancé, trauma surgeon Daniel Hawthorne, from the Las Vegas hospital where they work to their destination, a Fourth of July weekend with his mother and guests in Lake Arrowhead. Anticipating the relief of mountain air after the burning heat of the desert, they stop so Kristine can change her clothes after a coffee spill near the Nevada/California border. While Daniel takes a call from his mother, Kristine plunges into the sudden gloom of a deserted roadside restroom.

Though her life has taken a turn for the better since Daniel asked her to be his wife, Kristine balks at the entrance to the smelly restroom as the darkness awakens memories of a traumatic childhood in the desert, where abandoned mines dotted the barren landscape, local lore telling of the ghosts of the dead waiting to lure the living inside. While she only needs a moment to change her stained scrubs for more appropriate attire, a nightmare begins before Kristine leaves the stinking ladies room and her discovery that everything has changed. With Daniel nowhere to be found, Kristine is instructed via text that she must follow directions to save her fiancé’s life. The directions are specific and tied to a timeline, her journey strewn with hazards and incriminating situations, her terror near unbearable as the minutes tick by and still Daniel seems so far away.

Pettersson drives her frantic protagonist beyond endurance, tormented by a faceless man who anticipates every feint, every effort to veer from his instructions and the dehumanizing acts he forces her to undertake. Daniel missing, her nine-year-old daughter in Las Vegas hovering in her anxious mind, Kristine feels the years slipping away, the work and polish in making a new life for her daughter and herself--even falling in love with a man like Daniel--suddenly reduced to the same shivering child terrorized by the dark and a violent past. In order to survive and resist the overwhelming urge to give up, Kristine must tap into the deepest part of her soul, outwit the predator threatening everything she values in life and overpower the stranger who has so meticulously plotted her destruction.

It is impossible to avoid getting caught up in the elaborate chase as, never blinking, the author drives this vehicle right over the cliff, foot to the accelerator then the brake. The story shifts from present to past and back, Kristine’s childhood experiences shaping the woman she has become, forced to witness the brutality of life too young, abandon innocence and forge her own way. This diabolic plot is studded with shocking revelations, Kristine reduced to feral animal instincts as she faces a mind-numbing foe. Strewn with human carnage, this is not a tale for the faint of heart, but it is well-plotted and horribly compelling in its clever, staged brutality, graphic and disturbing, as exhausting for the reader as the woman who set out to spend a holiday weekend with her fiancé’s family and friends.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2015

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