Monday, April 12, 2010

When the Nightmare Escalates: Rick Mofina, THE PANIC ZONE

Ottawa thriller author Rick Mofina's third series braids three forms of terror in THE PANIC ZONE (Mira, July 2010), into a fast-paced and frightening exploration of how bad things can get. This is Mofina's second venture with investigative reporter Jack Gannon, whose debut came in VENGEANCE ROAD -- and it's Mofina's third series, with skill and pace honed and sharp.

Emma Lane, doting mother of a "miracle baby," spotted a suspicious car following her small family while on a long weekend meant to be a break from her husband Joe's intense work schedule. But Joe brushed off her concern -- a serious misjudgment on his part, because tragedy erupts. What could be worse for Emma than being in a car crash where her husband and baby son are killed and she survives?

This: the haunting suspicion that her child didn't die in the crash, but was instead abducted, while Emma and Joe lay pinned in the automobile as it burst into flames. And who on earth will believe her, when the coroner has already certified the child's death?

Investigative reporter Jack Gannon knows nothing about Emma or her situation. But he knows he's going to get dumped by the metropolitan news service that's hired him if he can't spin a really big story, really soon. So he's eager to fly to Brazil, where a journalist's death has rocked the news service. But eagerness and inexperience soon add up to vulnerability and a snowballing set of attacks on Jack himself, in ways he'll never recover from.

Mofina outlines danger and despair adeptly, as in this moment when Emma tries to return to her home, where everyone who cares about her is determined to "help her" give up her delusion about her missing son:
Aunt Marsha got her a glass of water and pills rattling in a plastic bottle.

"The doctor said these would help, Emma."

"No pills now."

Emma finished the water and sat motionless for a long time, listening to the clock ticking above the mantel, before she found herself walking through her home, room by room, expecting Joe and Tyler to be there.

Wanting them to be there.

Aching for them to be there as she touched Joe's work shirts and thrust her face into Tyler's blanket, muffling her screams. Bring them back. Please bring them back. She lay down on Joe's side of the bed and questioned the distant snow-capped mountains.

Why was God punishing her again? What had she done?
In the same way, Mofina outlines the pain Gannon has landed in:
Everything was intact.

Except Gannon.

He couldn't stop shaking. Tears filled his eyes.

"This will occur for some time," the doctor said in accented English.
Because neither Gannon nor Emma will give up, though, the threats against both of them keep rising. And a powerful, wealthy, and ruthless form of terrorism appears to bind the two situations, in a horrible maneuver that's aimed as much at baby Tyler as all the rest of the world.

Mofina's own career in Canadian journalism feeds the reality that underpins his writing, and if the manic violence of his criminals sometimes feels beyond belief, there's too much going on for doubts to linger. Global domination by the wicked and callous pales compared to the graphic pain of both the desperate reporter and the frantic mother in THE PANIC ROOM. And that's the pain close enough to us all for the threats of this thriller to cut cleanly, raising the ante at each turn of the plot.

If you're planning your summer beach reading, this will time out just about perfectly, with its July 1 release. Add it to the list.

PS -- Looking for more info on Mofina's other books, or his tour? See his web site:

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