Up until recently, Melissa Pimentel was an author of romance novels. Then, Pimentel wrote a thriller, and it was so different from anything she had published before that she needed a new name.
Thus, Jessica Barry was born — and with her, one of the first great novels of the year. Freefall, published on Jan.8 in the US, has been billed as a debut, though it's not exactly one — it's Barry's first novel, but Pimentel has four books to her name on Amazon. Regardless, this first thriller is a chance for Pimentel/Barry to demonstrate her many strengths as a writer: an eye for detail, an ear for voices, and that little extra bit of soul — a desire to show readers something about our world and those who inhabit it, a quality that breathes life into every word.
Allison, her protagonist, has all the hallmarks of a Knoll heroine — one of many flourishes that bring to mind Knoll’s writing.
We meet Allison when she emerges from the wreckage of her fiancé’s aircraft in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. There is a man near her — his face is missing. Her body is bruised, her rations almost non-existent. Yet Allison reminds herself to move, breathe and walk. She has a plan, which takes her trekking in the Rockies in a pair of leggings, a sports bra and a T-shirt, with four Luna bars and a bag of mixed nuts in her bag. Allison walks, sleeps and somehow survives in the Colorado mountains. Anyone in her situation would be desperate for help, but Allison doesn’t want to be found. There are men looking for her, and they want her dead.
It takes a skilled novelist to straddle the practicality of being lost in the mountains and the emotional experience of losing oneself. Barry pulls it off beautifully. Her vivid writing means we feel Allison’s pain, her hunger, and her relief whenever she does eat some food.
There is something metaphorical about Allison’s quest to make it out of the Rocky Mountains alive. The precariousness of her situation causes her to reconsider the way she has led her life thus far.
The resolution is full of satisfying twists. The suspense works because it’s intricately tied to Allison’s emotional journey. The ending is unexpected but doesn’t seem far-fetched, mainly because Barry’s masterful writing forces us to suspend our disbelief.
Barry has delivered a scintillating debut.A thrilling second career awaits.
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