Monday, July 6, 2015

SWERVE :: Vicki Pettersson

Time to put on the big-person pants, settle in, buckle up, and peek between your fingers, because Vicki Pettersson's Swerve is one hell of a thrill ride. It's one of those books that quickly started playing like a movie in my head. In fact, rather than similar books, it conjured up memories of great scary movies about characters in life-or-death peril on the road; movies like Joy Ride, Breakdown, and even the old Dennis Weaver classic, Duel.

Swerve is a thrilling, and at times gruesome, roller coaster game of cat and mouse that starts pretty quickly out of the gate and doesn't let up. I started reading on a Friday afternoon and made sure I had it with me as I trotted off to the emergency room that night (visit unrelated to reading Swerve). It was even good when I was loaded up with morphine. So, what is this barn burner about? I'll give you bare bones.

Physician's Assistant Kristine and her surgeon fiance Daniel are in his snazzy BMW on their way from Las Vegas to Lake Arrowhead for his family's Fourth of July celebration. Kristine is happy to get away with Daniel, even if it means leaving her nine-year-old daughter at home with the sitter and heading off to Daniel's less than welcoming mother, Imogene.

When Daniel is forced to swerve while the two are engaging in a little road-PDA, Kristine manages to spill coffee all over herself and the pristine car. Daniel pulls over at a rest area so Kristine can clean up and change into her party duds. The rest area, in the middle of the Nevada desert, is scary enough as it is, but Kristine is soon enough dropped into the seventh circle of hell when she's attacked and knocked out by a stranger in coveralls and work boots (the glimpse she gets from under the stall door before it hits her in the face).

When Kristine comes to, bloody and battered, she's immediately concerned about Daniel and rushes out to the car, only to find it empty, save for Daniel's cell phone and the keys dangling from the ignition. She starts to call for help when the cell phone in her hand receives a text message from her own phone:

Say good-bye. Now. Or he dies.

So begins a timed road-trip "scavenger hunt" that means life or death for Daniel. As a man of means, it seems obvious the play is for money, particularly when Kristine's first required stop is a set of casinos at the Nevada/California border. "The man is clearly driving me toward money, most likely one of the casino's ubiquitous ATMs." But when her tormentor instead directs her to the on-site roller coaster, one of her "personal ideas of hell," and forces her to ride before collecting her next clue, Kristine begins to wonder if the "game" isn't about Daniel at all, but about her. Because it's not the first time she's had to deal with the devil.

I still don't know what this guy Malthus wants. His order to wake up tells me nothing, though the admission that he's been stalking me for ten months turns that nothing into something significant. He has Daniel, yes, but it's clear now that this is about me, and I can't even imagine what I could have done to deserve this. Okay, maybe except for that. That one thing. But that's long past, and besides, everyone has something in their history that makes them flinch. My memories just happen to spring up like poisonous mushrooms, mealy and rotted and contaminated by my mother's voice. Try it just once; trust me, baby.

As the game gets more personal, sick, twisted, and grisly, the fighter in Kristine begins to emerge:

"How much do you really care?" Something shifts inside me at that, uncoiling as if abruptly awakened, though it's probably been lying in wait since being prodded by the truck driver back before Primm, the one who set my temper flaring with a mere look. All I know for sure is that it's reptilian in nature and born of this desert, and it rears up now to meet Malthus's liquid-mercury voice with venomous intent. He does not want to see how far I can go.

Swerve is not for the faint of heart; it's unflinching in its violence and gore. Once Kristine puts her foot on the gas the story takes off and doesn't let up, each step in the game ups the ante and puts Kristine between a bigger rock and a harder place. The clues as to what's going on are there for readers if they want to look for them, but I was too eager to let the story bloodily unfold on its own to think about the whats or whys before I got there.

I've seen the book likened to horror novels and Pettersson to authors that write some horror and I have to admit I'm not sure how I'd categorize it. I'm not too fond of categorizing books at all, but I realize potential readers want to know what they're in for. I don't consider all "scary" stories to be horror stories. There are things in Swerve that are certainly horrific, but I don't really consider it "horror" (though I must admit I don't read enough horror to speak with any authority on whether it truly fits that genre). I will say it is one hell of a bloody thrill-ride.

STREET SENSE:  I recommend Swerve to readers who enjoy fast-paced thrillers and aren't put off by the grisly. There's plenty of "on-screen" madness taking place in Swerve. I was really interested to learn about Vicki Pettersson's writing history. I'd not heard of her before seeing Swerve on NetGalley, and had I known she was a well-known fantasy/romance writer, I might not have given Swerve a try. I would have missed out by prejudging Pettersson's style. I loved the note in the book's acknowledgment section to her readers: "Finally, to and for the readers who've followed me over from the fantastical...see, guys? I told ya I'd give you another girl with grit." And so she has.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Yet my mother wore down my love in increments. She was a pumice stone applied to an open wound -- she kept rubbing at me with every relentlessly bad decision, every unwarranted criticism, and each moment of neglect until I was finally so numb that I felt nothing for her at all. Sure I eventually ran away, escaping to Vegas, but it was only because my mother had abandoned me first.

COVER NERD SAYS:  The fact that I admit I'm a cover nerd means it should surprise no one that I peruse NetGalley for covers that strike me. I'm not 100% successful picking or dismissing things based on cover, I have been proven wrong on both sides of the coin, but more often than not the covers I pick serve their content well. Swerve is no exception. If anything, even while attracting me it didn't prepare me for what awaited me inside. I don't read blurbs, but the Swerve cover blurb does it good justice. The cover image takes on additional meaning once you're into the story and I thought it was a job well done.


Shannon @ River City Reading said...

The first thing I thought when I saw the cover was, "Well, this looks scary." and then you tell me I need my big person panties! I was right! I actually know several people I think would like this, so it's good to see...I'm just not sure I can handle it ;)

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

Pants! (Am I the only one creeped out by the word panties?) :) It was really good, I found myself wishing it wasn't so gory in spots so I could recommend it to more people. But it knows its target audience. Which frankly shouldn't have been me, either, but it was really fun and different. Hope your recommendees enjoy!

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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