Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review: Fight for Life by T.J. Frost

A Slow-Burn Introduction Leads to A Fast and Tense Finish

Rachel Phelps, the strong, female protagonist in Fight for Life, faces more than her fair share of challenges.  Her mother is swindled out of her life’s savings, then dies mysteriously.  Her husband prefers drinking and gambling to work and seems to know more about Rachel’s mom’s death than he’s saying.  Rachel is responsible for her younger brother with Down’s syndrome because there’s no one else.  And then, some shadowy figures involved in high-tech, genetic research in a foreign country show more than a healthy interest in her life.  Yes, author T.J. Frost concocts a setting rife with potential for tension and action.  That potential is realized, but it takes some reading. 

The evil geneticist theme in the author’s synopsis caught my interest, and the man appears in chapter 1.  But that mention is largely a teaser and he doesn’t reappear until chapter 27, more than halfway through the book.  What’s happening in the intervening text?  Mostly, character development and scene setting, and the author does them well.  We learn to love strong, yet self-deprecating Rachel.  We come to dislike, or at least distrust her get-rich-quick husband.  And we learn a fair amount about their acquaintances and their failing business.  But while the characters may be enigmatic and the events mysterious, little happens.  The pace is a bit plodding.  Even the dialog reinforces this ‘all in good time’ feel.  For example, early in the book when Rachel’s mother announces she wants to die, Rachel’s response is “Mum, whatever is the matter?”

The pace quickens and the tension increases markedly in the second half of the book when Rachel takes matters into her own hands and decides to investigate.  The pressure becomes palpable, as the characters become darker and the action grows more intense, more gruesome.  After the first half, the second almost felt rushed, and I wondered if the story would end in a cliff-hanger.  But Frost ties up all the loose ends, even to the point of explaining the motivations of several minor characters.  As for the outcome of the final confrontation, it was somewhat predictable given the situation of the principals.  Even the motivation behind the “multi-million-dollar conspiracy” is foreshadowed.  But there was still plenty of action and ample opportunity for nail-biting getting to that conclusion.

Overall, Fight for Life gets high marks for character and setting development, albeit in a somewhat plodding manner.  The climax, although somewhat predictable, still provides an adrenaline rush, as Rachel seemingly battles alone against powerful forces allied against her.

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