“If She Wakes” (Little, Brown), by Michael Koryta
Multi-award winning author Michael Koryta again shows his affinity for smoothly melding sophisticated action with solid character development — even when one of the individuals is in a coma — as happens in “If She Wakes.”
“If She Wakes” not only works well as a quintessential thriller but also as a tale about rebuilding one’s life and not giving up on one’s self amid insurmountable odds.
Bright, personable Tara Beckley, a student at Maine’s Hammel College, ends up in a coma after being injured in a horrific car accident in which visiting professor Amandi Oltamu is killed. Tara had been driving Amandi to deliver the keynote speech about his groundbreaking work on batteries and solar panels. The professor insisted they take an alternate route and had wanted them to stop on a bridge so he could take photographs with his phone when they were struck by another vehicle.
Hammel College hires insurance investigator Abby Kaplan to look into the collision to avoid any lawsuits over the death or Tara’s hospital bills. But Abby is a former stunt driver with an encyclopedic knowledge of accidents, having recently been in a high-profile collision that resulted in a fatality. It soon becomes clear that this accident could not have happened as the police reports stated. Soon more deaths linked to the incident occur. As Abby investigates, Tara remains in the locked-in syndrome, able to hear what is going on around her in the hospital room but unable to communicate.
While “If She Wakes” is a stand-alone thriller, Koryta brings back, in a way, brothers Jack and Patrick Blackwell, professional killers who first appeared in 2014’s “Those Who Wish Me Dead.” While the brothers are now dead, their legacy looms large, especially in the form of Dax Blackwell, a teenage assassin who is more violent than his father or uncle.
Koryta is such a polished writer that his plots zip by as he delves into the amorality of Dax and the humanity of Abby and Tara, whose personality emerges, despite being paralyzed. Believable twists propel the tense “If She Wakes” as it moves to a surprising finale.