Short Take: A thriller if you haven’t read a lot of them.
The One That Got Away lured me in with the promise of something a little bit different; namely, what happens long-term to the person who escapes a serial killer? How much are they damaged or empowered by the experience? Most books end with the escape of the victim and the death of the killer. But what happens if the victim escapes, and the killer is still alive? Would either of them be damaged or empowered by the experience?
Graduate students Zoe and Holli are blowing off steam by spending a weekend in Las Vegas, flirting, partying, and in general, doing what 20-somethings do when they have some time off. On the way back to California, they are abducted by a sadistic serial killer. Holli is tortured and murdered, while Zoe escapes.
From there, we jump ahead fifteen months. Zoe has dropped out of school and is now working as a mall security officer. Because she was heavily drugged during the abduction, her memories are unreliable, and investigators have not been able to follow up on her report, despite the fact that Holli is still missing. Although she is in therapy, she’s also suffering from a pretty deep case of PTSD, and frequently puts herself at risk.
This is one of those books that reveals the killer’s identity right away, so referring to him by name is not a spoiler. We meet Marshall Beck at his accountant job at a shelter for abused animals. When he kills another woman, this time in San Francisco, where Zoe is living, she throws herself into the investigation, and back onto his radar. The rest of the book is a battle of wits and wills, as Zoe tries to help the police find a killer who is also trying to find her.
So this one hits all the right notes. Fast paced? Check. A morally complex protagonist? Eh, mostly. A scary-smart villain? Yup. But for some reason, it just felt flat to me. Perhaps it’s because Marshall Beck is just TOO smart, just TOO smooth and lucky. Maybe because so much of the plot was telegraphed ahead of time (example: the person who spends all their spare time taking self defense classes gets into several physical altercations). Despite its early promise, The One That Got Away is pretty formulaic.
It could also be that I’m just jaded from having read so many thrillers (and more than my share of “thrillers”). Other than a really wrenching first chapter, there were almost no surprises. Simon Wood set his characters up with certain behavioral traits, and they stayed in place throughout the book, with nobody doing anything unexpected. I would have liked more nuance, more twists, more mystery.
All in all, this wasn’t a terrible book, but it wasn’t an especially great one either.
The Nerd’s Rating: THREE HAPPY NEURONS