Once Koryta left Lincoln Perry behind and started writing stand-alones, I read one and never got around to the rest -- but something about this one drew me in (and it doesn't look like my typical suspense preference) -- and now I've got to find time to go back and pick up the three or four I've missed. It was just so good.
The elements are all here: characters, plot, pacing, setting. As cliché as some of the characters may be in theory, they really aren't that in Koryta's hands -- the 13 year-old murder witness, the scarred (emotionally and physically) hero firefighter, the survival expert being pushed beyond his limits, the hapless federal Marshall, the troubled teens on the wilderness survival course, the pair of killers who are possibly creepier and deadlier than Breaking Bad's Salamanca Cousins. All of these are drawn sensitively and realistically.
The first couple of chapters were enough to keep you reading, but that's about it -- set up the story, establish the main characters, typical stuff. But it takes almost no time at all to go from that to shut-off-the-phone/ignore-the-wife-and-kids exciting. Gritty, fast-paced, visceral, with a strong sense of character and realism. Exactly what you want in this kind of book.
I don't know if this particular bit of Montana actually exists -- but Koryta gives you a strong enough sense of place that it might as well. From the Serbins' home, to the trail the teens travel, to Hannah's look out tower, to the mountain the bulk of the action takes place on, I feel like I could hop in the car, drive a few hours and be right there in the midst of them. Not now, during fire season, obviously -- don't need that level of realism.
Koryta has so many opportunities to drown us in details about the backstory of the characters -- which is not to say that he doesn't give us enough to get to know these people. But most authors would've given us a lot more about the history of everyone -- particularly Ethan and Allison. He hints at things, the characters are still acting in response to what's gone on before these events, but we're only told a bit more than we need to know. His restraint is commendable, and only adds to the immediacy of the action and the pace.
From the point where Koryta kicks things into high gear to the gut-wrenching climax, this is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that delievers exactly what it promises -- action, suspense, and as much entertainment as you can squeeze into just under 400 pages. How good was it? Just writing this up has whet my appetite for a re-read.