This thriller follows four college students as a stalker hunts them on the Appalachian Trail.
Jerry Allen, Diane Cain, Linda Baldwin, and Bill Martin are students from Appalachian State University on their semester break. They’ve decided to hike the Appalachian Trail from Tennessee through North Carolina and into Virginia. As a couple, Diane and Bill have hiked sections of the trail before, but lovers Jerry and Linda are new to the experience. The foursome travels without cellphones, though, which proves to be a dangerous mistake: Diane, while relieving herself away from the group, gets sexually assaulted by a stranger. Bill insists on hunting down the perpetrator, even if they must leave the trail for the deeper woods. When they camp for the night, their wilderness-wise stalker toys with them by circling the camp and throwing firecrackers. Eventually, Bill gets separated from his friends; he has a limited knowledge of the land and finite supplies, so the others must decide whether to search for him or abandon him and save themselves. Diane, meanwhile, harbors a secret that could radically change the whole dynamic of the trip. Later, as exhaustion and fear lead to accidental injuries and deadly weather closes in, the students’ faith in God is tested in ways that rarely happen in everyday life. Author House (So Shall You Reap, 2011, etc.) injects his book with plenty of firsthand experience of the Appalachian Trail, bringing the loveliness of the locale to life (“Brilliant flowers of every color...nestled against the background like splatters of fluorescent paint”). He never shies from detailing his characters’ injuries (“Blood and trapped bowel fluid flowed out, soaking his clothes, resulting in a frozen mass against his skin”), though, or the primitive methods they use to treat them. The young people’s biting quips also feel true-to-life (“Reality was a bitch and in this case it had a name—Diane”). They frequently thank God for small miracles, and by the end, love helps redeem them during the horrifying resolution. Ultimately, House delivers an excellent message about building character through trial.
A visceral debut novel set against the splendor of a national treasure.