Best-selling author Gross’ (No Way Back, 2013, etc.) latest is a hard-driving caper that chronicles the trials of a suburban divorcée seduced by temptation.
Joseph Kelty had $500,000 in his car, but he was texting while driving; he lost control, crashed and died. First at the scene is Hilary Cantor, recently downsized, with a crippling mortgage and an ex-husband behind on alimony and child support. Her son, Brandon—"This is what God gave me to protect, to keep safe"—has Asperger's syndrome, and he attends a specialized school with break-the-bank tuition. Gross does yeoman work in setup, circumstance and motivation—Kelty was a retired transit worker with a pristine past and Hilary is all wavering conscience, focused on need rather than consequences. Hilary throws the money into the woods and later returns to the scene to recover it—but that $500,000 is dirty money, and there are bad guys who will kill to get it. First to die is an innocent pharmacist who was a witness to the crash. Hilary and Brandon are targeted next. The tense, fast-moving narrative takes in Superstorm Sandy, Ukrainian mobsters, a knee-capping political fixer and a psychopathic thrill-killer. Hilary traces the money to storm-ravaged Staten Island and seeks help from Kelty’s police-officer son, Patrick, thinking "[m]aybe I just wanted a partner in this"—but Patrick’s caught in his own financial trap. Hilary and Patrick are well-defined, sympathetic characters, and assorted bad guys are thoroughly believable. Gross sustains momentum while flipping back and forth in time and point of view. Segments following the psychopath are confusing, however, and then indeterminate; only late in the book do they weave into the main narrative. The conclusion is unsentimental though not quite satisfying.
A tightly wound, realistic thriller.