Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 1 June 2012

One Breath Away - Heather Gudenkauf

'All the hard work she invested in creating a warm welcoming environment, destroyed by this terrible man.'

This contemporary novel follows five people all linked by the chilling events of one day in the small town of Broken Branch, Iowa, when a gunman enters an elementary school. Five narrators who are all linked by the events tell us about the day through their eyes, each giving a different perspective, and we find out a little about each of their backgrounds too, which allows us to learn about them, and relate this to how they are behaving now, on this day. As the snow falls, the rest of the town can only sit and wait.

Police officer Meg Barrett, farmer Will Thwaite, his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Augie Baker, and Evelyn Oliver, the teacher trapped in her classroom with her pupils and the gunman, recount what is happening around them, and then the final narrator is Holly, who is mother to Augie and her younger brother P. J., and who is in hospital across the country recovering from the effects of a terrible accidental fire. 

This is an emotional, captivating story of everyday lives and relationships interrupted by one terrifying moment. The tension builds as the story progresses. The author conveys the worries of those waiting to hear any news from the school. I found myself thinking about who the gunman could be, and what his motivation was. There is suspicion and speculation as to his identity by those closely involved. Through what we slowly learn about these characters' pasts, the author introduces several possible candidates who could be the gunman. Anxious parents and friends wait, desperate for news, but little is forthcoming. For policewoman Meg, this is frustrating: 'I feel at loose ends; the little information I have is fragmented and disjointed, doesn't make sense.' The reader is kept on edge for most of the novel as to how the events will conclude.

The novel is fast-paced, the narrative voice shifts regularly between the five characters, and the sections are all fairly short, until at one point we have as little as a paragraph or two from one character, then we skip straight to another. This occurs as the story is at its most uncertain moment, and adds to the tension for the reader.

The main characters are all convincing and well-drawn, each with their own individual concerns already playing on their minds, these anxieties then being compounded by the shocking events of this day. It's fascinating to see how each character reacts in this awful situation. I kept wondering what would happen next, and I was thinking about the story even when I'd put the book down. 

Published by Harlequin Mira on June 19th 2012 (US) and Mira on July 6th 2012 (UK)

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance ebook copy of this novel to read and review. 


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