Andrew Gross has had an interesting career path. After a successful career in the apparel industry Gross decided to try his hand at writing (he majored in English in college). His novel was rejected but an editor liked his writing enough to send it on to best selling author James Patterson. Patterson saw enough promise to contact Gross and offer him a chance to collaborate on a novel. They soon had a contract and were off and running. The resulting collaboration produced five number one New York Times bestsellers.
Building on this success, Gross decided to strike out on his own and was signed by William Morrow to a three book deal. The first of which, The Blue Zone, was recently released. Not having read any of his co-authored works – nor any James Patterson for that matter – I can’t really compare this solo effort with his previous work, but The Blue Zone is a solid thriller with plenty of twists and turns. While it didn’t quite strike me as the proverbial “Can’t put it down” type, it certainly shows enough promise to think Gross will do just fine flying solo.
The story centers around Kate Rabb, a medical researcher in the Bronx. Kate has what seems like the perfect life: a successful career, a loving family, and a wonderful husband. She is excited about the future. This all changes in an instant when her father is arrested on charges of laundering money for a Columbian drug cartel. Her seemingly perfect family’s life literally explodes during a burst if gunfire in what appears to be an attempt to kill them all by the Colombians.
This danger forces them into the witness protection program – all except Kate who decides she is unwilling to put her promising life on hold. But, as you might expect in a thriller, everything is not as it seems and one by one things begin to unravel. Her close friend and co-worker is nearly killed; her dad disappears from the witness protection program; a FBI agent assigned to her family is brutally murdered; and she finds some evidence that her family’s past is a lot more complicated than she has been led to believe.
Unsure of who to trust Kate soon strikes out on her own to try and get to the bottom of her father’s deception and the events that have turned her life upside down. As the violence around her escalates, Kate must decide who she can trust or she might lose her own life in the process.
As I noted above, I found The Blue Zone to be an entertaining book. It wasn’t “wow, you gotta read this” but it was a solid thriller. Below are some thoughts.
Kate Rabb is an interesting central character. She doesn’t instantly become a kind of superwoman but must slowly work through her emotions and loyalties that are being pulled in different directions. She was a little over-wrought at times (at least for my taste) – lamenting and agonizing over the fact that her life is based on a lie, etc a tad too often.
The plot starts out rather slowly but really picks up the pace and intensity in the book’s last third. Publishers Weekly found it far fetched but what do you expect in a thriller of this sort? I thought the complex family mystery and feud at the heart of the story worked to keep the reader guessing and ratcheting up the tension.
A couple of things did strike me as awkward or unnecessary. The focus on Kate’s job as a lab tech working in stem cell research, for example, was odd at times. It isn’t integral to the plot so why spend time using big words and describing the science involved? Do I really care what she sees through the micro-scope or what the process was called? Gross does his best to weave it all together, but it seemed out of place to me. The events surrounding her friend and fellow lab worker Tina seemed a bit overdone as well. Again, why spend the time and words on non-impact side stories?
Lastly, as PW also notes, the witness protection program aspect of the plot came across as thin and unrealistic. You don’t get the feeling that Gross captured how the program really operates. Despite its link to the title, it really isn’t all that important in the big picture.
All of these things are not central to the plot, however, so they are just distractions or minor flaws. If you like fast paced thrillers with lots of twists and turns you should enjoy The Blue Zone.
It should be interesting to see if Gross can hone his skills and write tighter and more focused thrillers. If he can, he can move from solid to first rate.