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Dead Woman Walking


Dead Woman Walking

Hot-air balloons are a great literary gimmick that is grossly underused. When employed, though, it is quite memorable. Who can forget the famous balloon that Phileas Fogg spans the globe with in Jules Verne's classic, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS? What about the opening sequence featuring an out-of-control hot-air balloon in Ian McEwan's psychological thriller, ENDURING LOVE? And I doubt anyone can ever forget the balloon commandeered in erratic fashion by the Wizard at the end of L. Frank Baum's THE WIZARD OF OZ.

I offer up the latest novel by Sharon Bolton, DEAD WOMAN WALKING, as another work of fiction that makes fine use of the hot-air balloon as a pivotal plot piece. The author formerly known as S.J. Bolton has made a nice career as a UK thriller writer who has no problem taking her characters and tales to the darker side of humanity. The result has been some of the most chilling and tautest thrillers on the market.

"There is no problem with twist predictions here. This is simply due to the fact that there are multiple, finely layered surprises that will leave readers gasping and doubting everything they have read up to that point."

The short prologue that opens the book says a lot and is enough to hook any thriller reader. Jessica Lane was the only survivor out of the 11 people who were aboard a hot-air balloon that came down in a heavily forested area in the Scottish countryside. She is now on the run from someone or something. What the police investigating the crash want to know is who or what she fears, and why.

Like so many other thrillers of the past several years, DEAD WOMAN WALKING jumps around the timeline throughout the narrative. We leap back and forth from this present-day tragedy to particular points in the past history of two sisters, Jessica and Isabella. We already have been introduced to Jessica, the “dead woman walking,” according to the title. Isabella, or Bella, is a sister in more ways than one --- she is a blood sister to Jessica and is now a nun.

The pleasure trip aboard the hot-air balloon turns into a living nightmare. As the craft is flying low over the Scottish hillside, a skirmish is noticed below them on the ground. A young woman is fleeing a violent-looking man who appears to have ill intent on his mind. As he ravages her, he notices the people on board the balloon spotting him. He specifically locks eyes with Jessica and Bella, creating an indelible mental image of them in his mind. He takes to firing upon the balloon with a shotgun, which is enough to cause it to spin wildly out of control and crash into the woods at high speed.

Suffering from an obvious concussion, Jessica, the lone survivor, is on a mission to get away. She realizes the killer spotted her and that he will stop at nothing to find her and silence her permanently. While this man, who we later come to know as Patrick Faa, is in pursuit of Jessica, he is not the only one who wants her found. A police squad led by investigator Ajax Maldonado (an interesting name referring to the Greek hero, not the kitchen cleanser) is also chasing after Jessica and is in need of answers as to why the crash occurred.

Be warned, this is no mere cat-and-mouse pursuit novel. At times, the switching between past and present and other plotlines that seem to involve some type of organ harvesting ring are enough to muddy the waters and confuse the reader. Mind you, this is the exact intent of the author. Whenever I read a book's dust jacket and see blurbs referring to a “twist her biggest fans won't see coming,” I get distracted and spend too much time trying to figure out the twist before it happens.

There is no problem with twist predictions here. This is simply due to the fact that there are multiple, finely layered surprises that will leave readers gasping and doubting everything they have read up to that point. Again, this is not so much caused by the unpredictable concussed narrator but by an author who is at the top of her game. Sharon Bolton does a masterful job of manipulation, which makes DEAD WOMAN WALKING a book that is fun to read, marvel at and enjoy.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 8, 2017

Dead Woman Walking
by Sharon Bolton

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250181283
  • ISBN-13: 9781250181282