Sunday, May 13, 2018

Vivid Debut Thriller from Charlton Pettus, EXIT STRATEGY

If you'd asked me whether a career in songwriting could benefit the power of a debut thriller, I would have said "Hmm, sweet notion, but unlikely." And I would have been wrong. Charlton Pettus is best known for producing the group Tears for Fears, with which he plays lead guitar -- and scoring and writing songs for film and TV. Somehow he's tumbled to this new area, though ... thank goodness!

EXIT STRATEGY may be the top international thriller I've read so far in 2018. With its rapid pace, adept twists, and compelling protagonist, I couldn't put it down. Here's the premise:

Jordan Parrish, founder of a medical technology firm, might have made a mistake in moving from lab work to business. He adores his wife and kids, but his financial disaster is going to let them down, bigtime. Is there any way he can escape the shambles of his career and leave his family in better shape than if he stayed around? He takes the risk of placing a call to a company that specializes in such disappearances. Even though he hangs up quickly, the damage is done, and Jordan's life as he knows it has ended, just that fast.

But nothing's as it seems. His wife realizes, almost before he does. The answers she's getting about Jordan having a second household, a car accident, a disaster, just don't fit the man she loved, and who loved her so much. Meanwhile, Jordan's struggling to meet the demands of having gone into hiding. Somehow, his life is more at risk than ever before.

Yet at first, things seem about what you'd expect:
Leaving a couple euros on the table, Jordan walked to the restroom. He locked himself in a stall and opened the envelope. Inside was a round-trip coach ticket to Hong Kong along with a well-worn Croatian passport and a credit card. The credit card and passport were in the name Antonin Kramaric. He crumpled the envelope and threw it in the trash. He washed his hands and dabbed at his face with a wet paper towel. His nose still hurt like hell and his eyes burned. He gingerly took off the shades and studied his face in the mirror. Where the nose had been broken there was now a pronounced Roman dip. Also his eyes were now a little wider and subtly sloped down at the outside, giving him a vaguely morose Slavic look. The skin was still puffy and red at the corners where the lids had been cut and sutured. Taken with the short, short hair and the scruffy facial growth, the cumulative change was substantial. If a former colleague had passed him in the airport Jordan doubted he would have looked twice.
When the plot swerved into a code that I "caught" right away, with exhilaration, I knew I was in for a memorable ride. Loved it.

Tough and at times violent, but not gruesome and not sadistic, this is a classic thriller with excellent pacing. I found the ending a bit out of line with the rest of the book -- when you've read it, let me know your opinion. But all told, I think Hanover Square Press made a great pick with this one.

No author website at this time.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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