Imagine waking to realize that you can’t move, you can’t speak or even blink, yet you’re fully aware of everything and everyone around you. Then imagine there is a crazed killer who will stop at nothing to extract a secret from you. For Hammel College senior Tara Beckley, she doesn’t have to imagine it. It’s real. And it’s terrifying. That’s the frightening premise of If She Wakes, the newest novel from thriller master Michael Koryta.
Events start innocently enough as Tara chauffeurs professor Amandi Oltamu across town to deliver the keynote address at her Maine liberal arts school’s conference. When Oltamu asks her to stop, she figures he simply has the jitters about his speech. But he follows up with an odd request to take a picture of her on his cellphone and then to lock the phone in the glovebox of her car. Again, she obliges. But before they can get underway again, the pair are struck by an apparently out of control driver. Oltamu is instantly killed in the collision while Tara is knocked senseless, only to “wake” in the hospital surrounded by doctors and family.
Koryta puts the reader in Tara’s shoes for some truly claustrophobic chapters in which her predicament is made all too clear. She can’t move, she can’t communicate, but she can hear everyone as they discuss her fate.
While staying in Tara’s tortured mind is harrowing enough, Koryta throws in a few other characters and a half dozen plot twists to ratchet up the tension even further. Insurance investigator Abby Kaplan discovers Oltamu’s phone, while Dax Blackwell, a young hitman out to prove himself worthy of his father’s legacy, strives to take it from her. But it won’t do either of them any good unless Tara can unlock its secrets.
Koryta keeps the action fast and furious, tempered with his characters’ determination to persevere against all odds.