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Book Nook: Descent, by Tim Johnston

This is one of the breakout novels of 2015. Here's my review which ran in the Cox Ohio newspapers:


In “Descent” Tim Johnston has written a literary mystery that is wrought with lovely craftiness. We can become emotionally involved and will want some of these characters to survive perils Johnston has imagined for them. It won’t be easy as outcomes remain in doubt. He takes us through baffling twists and turns. As the story begins the Courtlands, a family from the Midwest, are taking the last vacation of their summer up in the Colorado mountains. Early one morning their parents are relaxing at the hotel while their son and daughter head for the mountain. Caitlin is 18. She is getting ready to go to college, where she will be running for the track team. Her younger brother Sean tags along on a bicycle as Caitlin runs up the mountain road. Some time later their parents receive a phone call at their hotel. The county sheriff is calling to inform them that their son has been in an accident. He’s at the hospital now. They ask to speak with their daughter. There’s a long pause before he responds: “ ‘Mr. Courtland,’ said the sheriff, ‘Your son came in alone.’ ” This family’s worst nightmare has now commenced. The search for Caitlin covers a broad area. She has vanished seemingly without a trace. “Descent” artfully depicts the Courtland family as it strains and collapses under the duress of this tragic event. As the search for Caitlin peters out and the trail of her shadowy abductor grows cold, her family is falling apart. Her mother Angela returns to their home in the Midwest and her job teaching school. But she has lost her ability to cope: “the moment she walked into the classroom she knew she’d made a mistake.” She imagines what her students are thinking: “she lost her daughter in the Rocky Mountains, then she lost her mind; she was in the ‘hospital’ for three months and now she’s our sub? Is that even like, legal?” Her husband Grant has remained behind in Colorado, where he stews over his daughter’s fate. He’s not handling it very well, either. As time elapses Caitlin’s brother Sean becomes the wild card in this story. He has suffered gruesome physical and psychic wounds. He was there when his sister vanished, and he feels very guilty about it. Readers will find themselves vicariously rushing toward oblivion as they descend through these suspenseful pages. “Descent” takes readers all the way down. Johnston has this rare storytelling gift. His readers can snuggle down securely in the comforts of their homes while this drama churns up massive rushes of adrenaline. I’ll compare it to being in an out of control vehicle skidding down an icy mountain road. Can we stop before we plummet from the sheer face of that cliff looming just ahead? It feels like that. What a ripping good read it is. This reviewer savored the plot twists and ultimately the exhilaration of a weightless blissful sensation at the conclusion of a gripping, well-told tale.

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Vick Mickunas introduced the Book Nook author interview program for WYSO in 1994. Over the years he has produced more than 1500 interviews with writers, musicians, poets, politicians, and celebrities. Listen to the Book Nook with Vick Mickunas for intimate conversations about books with the writers who create them. Vick Mickunas reviews books for the Dayton Daily News and the Springfield News Sun.