Monday, November 10, 2014
FATAL EXCHANGE by Lisa Harris
Sybil Bates McCormack reviews
Fatal Exchange, an engrossing inspirational romantic suspense novel set in modern day Atlanta, opens with undercover police officer Mason Taylor in the throes of guilt and revealing an innate flaw. He has just prioritized a life-or-death situation connected with work over a similarly urgent crisis developing in Denver connected with family. The conflicted cop then proceeds to absolve himself of any wrongdoing by observing that seventeen is too young to die.
Gifted Hispanic high school student Rafael Cerda—whose younger brother has been kidnapped at knife point by a powerful drug cartel—has solicited Mason’s help. The kidnappers have demanded a sizeable ransom for the brother’s release, and Rafael (for whom Mason has been a “Big Brother” mentor) has nowhere else to turn.
When Mason’s early investigation into the crime prompts a visit to the swanky private high school that the witness attends on scholarship, he encounters a former crush. Emily Hunt, Rafael’s history teacher, is also the daughter of Mason’s former boss and the sister of his deceased partner—a partner that some are convinced he betrayed. Despite the obstacles that stand between them, Mason is drawn to Emily—to her beauty, to her intellect and to the compassion and concern she demonstrates when he shares Rafael’s plight.
Emily Hunt is striving to rebuild her life—a life marred in recent months by both a broken engagement and her brother’s untimely death. When Mason Taylor appears unexpectedly at Dogwood Academy to share the disturbing news about Rafael’s family, Emily’s struck by the sincerity in his countenance and his words. She’s impressed that he has become a man of faith. She recalls how deeply her brother trusted Mason—how capably and skillfully he’s always performed in his position. In short, Emily finds it difficult to reconcile what she knows of the officer with her sister’s claims that he is somehow culpable in their brother’s death. But is she right? Can Mason Taylor truly be trusted? Is he all that he seems?
Fatal Exchange, the second in author Lisa Harris’s Southern Crimes Series (see Dangerous Passage – Book 1 and Hidden Agenda – Book 3 pending release in January 2015) is nothing short of riveting. Ms. Harris introduces one of the most unexpected plot twists I’ve ever encountered at a very early point in the book and then builds upon—and expands upon it—so skillfully that I found myself stopping periodically to grin and gasp in awe at her ability to craft a story. I will refrain from discussing more on any specific elements of plot for fear that I’ll give away something that would spoil the book for other readers.
It may sound cliché, but the author literally hooks the reader into Mason and Emily’s story from the very first paragraph and never releases her again until the very end. The “reveals” at each major plot point in the book are logical yet unpredictable. Ms. Harris laces backstory and the intermittent red herring into the narrative in an artful, sparing manner. She shares everything the reader needs to know to “connect the dots,” but makes it a thrilling challenge—all the while creating a daring, breathless gallop toward the book’s sensational conclusion.
Lisa Harris draws layered, multi-dimensional portraits of the major characters in Fatal Exchange by way of balanced dialogue, nuanced narratives, and brief, compulsory allusions to setting. She demonstrates true mastery of characterization and dialogue when she sketches secondary, tertiary, and even fleeting characters in the novel. All prove easy to “hear” and visualize—despite the relentless pace of the book.
Final Words: Novelists are often thrilled to hear that they’ve kept a reader up all night. But, in this instance, the words “she kept me up and guessing all night” are more apt. I give Fatal Exchange my very highest recommendation!
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