Sunday, July 13, 2014

Those Who Wish Me Dead

by Michael Koryta
Little, Brown     2014
391 pages     Fiction

Don't you love it when a book grabs you on the first page and never lets you go? That is exactly what happens with Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta. 

Jace Wilson is a 14 year old who witnesses a murder and sees the murderers face to face while at a quarry swimming hole in Indiana. A private security guard convinces his parents to hide him at a wilderness survival camp in Montana instead of putting him into a witness protection program. Ethan and Allison Serbin run the survival camp for troubled teens, and when the group that includes Jace comes, nobody knows which boy is the one in hiding. The action begins with the murders and ends with a forest fire in the mountains. Along the way there are several deaths and so many breath-taking moments that your heart never stops pounding. In the midst of the danger, Jace grows up, and Ethan and Allison grow older, wondering why they agreed to this craziness in the first place. 

The first chapter tells the story of Jace Wilson being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The details of the crime he witnesses is so graphically written that I had to stop reading at the end of the chapter. I was breathless, and so scared for Jace that I had to take a break to process the situation he is in. Koryta knows how to grab an audience and make them want more.

The assassins are among the most cleverly created villains that I have ever read—almost as clever as the villains in Fargo in their absurdity and menace. They are brothers and are totally bonded with each other—so close that their dialogue is uniquely their own and hard for their victims to follow. They also like to "play" with their victims, in much the same way that the cat plays with the mouse before it devours it. They are seemingly invincible, and as much as the reader hates their guts, you can't help but admire their prowess. They find Jace almost immediately upon their arrival in Montana, and they create a trail of terror, including several deaths and the forest fire that almost kills them all.

And then you can't help but admire the pluck and grit of Jace (or Conner, as he is known to Ethan and the other campers). He is facing a desperate situation, but he is a very smart, quick learner. He also has the good sense to know when he is not just in danger for himself, but that he is also putting other people in danger.  He is wary about seeking out people to help him because he knows that the assassins are on his trail; yet because he is just a boy, he inspires those who meet him to try to save him. The story line would have been entirely different if Jace had been an adult in danger rather than a teenage boy. You would have worried, but you wouldn't have been frantic with worry.

The details of the setting are realistic. That's because Michael Koryta has taken the same kind of survival training that Ethan taught in his survival school in Montana. Koryta and some friends backpacked in the Beartooth Mountains, and that trip became the inspiration for Those Who Wish Me Dead. His group had stopped for lunch at a vista overlooking the mountain range. "I realized I could not see another soul," he said. "I immediately began to think, 'I could put someone in a lot of trouble up here.'" 

Also remarkable, Michael Koryta is just 31 years old, and this is his tenth novel. He first hit the bestseller lists with The Prophet in 2012, and Those Who Wish Me Dead has already been optioned for a movie. One reviewer compares him to Stephen King because of the breadth of material he has created, including science fiction, fantasy, and ghosts. Many reviewers feel that Those Who Wish Me Dead is his best novel so far.

As I was reading the book, I had two major thoughts: The first was that this will be a great movie, and the second was that I wanted my teenaged grandsons to read the book. It isn't a YA book by any means, but one of my grandson's is on his way to the Philmont Boy Scout wilderness camping experience today, and my other grandson wants to spend his life in the woods. They will love everything about Those who Wish Me Dead.

Review on
Article about Michael Koryta in the Wall Street Journal.
Michael Koryta's website.

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