Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: 'Skyjack' by K.J. Howe

'She’d learned everything she could about planes and safety, hoping the knowledge would ease her anxiety. It didn’t.’

Canadian author K.J. Howe attended Salzburg International Preparatory School, Neuch√Ętel Junior College, and Albert College before earning a Specialists Degree in Business from the University of Toronto. KJ found success in the corporate world, but her passion for travel, adventure, and stories drew her back to school where she earned a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She has also worked as a medical, health, and fitness expert and she has global experiences riding racing camels in Jordan, surfing in Hawaii, ziplining in the Costa Rican jungle, diving alongside Great White Sharks in South Africa, studying modern combat in the Arizona desert, and working with elephants in Botswana. She is the executive director of ThrillerFest, the annual conference of International Thriller Writers. Her debut novel (and the first book of the Thea Paris Series) was THE FREEDOM BROKER. Now she presents Book 2 of the Thea Paris Series with SKYJACK. As far as a description of the ongoing series KJ states ‘There are twenty-five elite kidnap and ransom (K&R) specialists in the world. Only one is a woman: Thea Paris. And she's the best in the business.’

From KJ’s site we learn more about her chosen heroine: ‘Born in New York, Thea Paris globetrotted with her oil billionaire father Christos and older brother Nikos, soaking in the different cultures and languages from the numerous countries they lived in. Sadly, Thea lost her mother in a sailing accident at Martha’s Vineyard when she was quite young, so she never had a female role model. She developed a passion for racing cars, motorcycling, and scuba diving—a virtual adrenaline junkie. But tragedy struck the Paris family again when twelve-year-old Nikos was abducted in Africa. Even though her brother returned home nine months later, he was never the same. Deeply affected by the abduction, Thea devoted her time and energy to becoming a kidnap negotiator, determined to help families who had also been victimized. To prepare for the demands of negotiating with criminals in foreign countries, Thea completed a Master’s Degree in International Relations at Georgetown and learned five languages. After graduating, she secured a position with the Defense Intelligence Agency for three years. Finally, she trained under two mentors at a London-based elite kidnapping response firm called Quantum Security International. Her bag is always packed and by the door, ready to support a hostage’s family and bring their loved one home. Thea suffers from Type 1 Diabetes. Since insulin isn’t readily available in some of the hotspots she works in, she must prepare carefully for her travels. Life with T1 diabetes isn’t easy, but she refuses to let the condition get in the way of her calling. Thea’s love life is a bit of a disaster. Men tend to lose interest when their girlfriend disappears for weeks at a time. Instead, she cuddles up with her Rhodesian Ridgeback Aegis who she shares with her father.’ 

With that degree of insight both as to author and heroine the plot unravels tightly: ‘International kidnap expert Thea Paris is escorting two former child soldiers on a plane from an orphanage in Kanzi, Africa, to adoptive parents in London when the Boeing Business Jet is hijacked and forced to land on a deserted airstrip in the Libyan desert. On the ground, Thea comes face-to-face with a former nemesis, a Sicilian don who wants something, or someone, on that plane. Her old foe imprisons her in the hangar and takes to the air with the boys and the passengers still aboard, mysteriously demanding that Thea use the resources of Quantum International to hijack a truckload of Syrian refugees bound for Budapest. He makes it clear he will return the passengers only when the truck and its contents are in his possession. Thea, Rif, and the Quantum team must race against the clock to discover the don's true motives before any harm comes to the two boys and their fellow passengers. Revealing a deadly conspiracy that connects the dark postwar legacy of World War II to the present, this case will bring all parties to an explosive conclusion that will decide the fate of millions across Europe and the Middle East.’

And after a ripping Prologue that sets the pace for the novel, KJ brings Thea into focus in the opening paragraph –‘ Thea Paris felt as if she were trapped inside a giant cocktail shaker. Up, down, side to side—the turbulence delivered a walloping to the 737. A sheen of sweat dampened her forehead, her vision was blurred, and the world felt slightly off-kilter. Was her blood sugar out of whack? A quick glance at the app on her phone: 110. All under control. Her nerves, not so much. Modern airliners were resilient enough to ride out severe turbulence without coming apart or falling out of the sky, but that knowledge didn’t help her feel any better. She just hated flying. Maybe it was the lack of control that drove her crazy? Rif Asker—her colleague and longtime friend—was an ace pilot, and he gently chided her about how she was able to remain calm under enormous duress in her job, while the sound of jet engines firing up rattled her to the core. Well, Rif wasn’t there today, and air travel was an essential part of being a crisis response consultant, the industry term for a kidnap negotiator.’

And that is only the beginning of this spine tingling thriller. KJ Howe molds a tale that completely absorbs the reader and the end result is a degree of anxiety as to how soon the next installment will be. Excellent on every level. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.