The book begins by telling us what the Blue Zone is – a state wherein the US Marshals responsible for the protection of witnesses in the Witness Protection Program do not know where their charges are, or whether they are alive or dead. The novel begins with a prologue, in which an old man, evidently a powerful one, or one feared and respected, dies. The doctor attending him realsies that things will change, and reckons that all hell will now break loose. The significance of this opening scene is only made clear later in the book, when it is explained.
Next, we move to the US, where respected gold merchant Benjamin Raab is suddenly arrested by the FBI on suspicion of laundering drug money for Colombian cartels. However, in exchange for his testimony, Raab is offered a nominal stint in prison and placement in the Witness Protection Program. He and his family accept this, though not without doubts, fear and anger – all except Kate, the eldest daughter, who is twenty-three and independent, and who refuses to leave New York where she is a graduate student studying leukocytes for her PhD.
Kate receives letters and emails from her family, re-located and re-named, somewhere in the west of the US, and all seems well for a while: until Raab goes missing, the Raabs’ case agent is tortured and killed, and Kate herself is threatened. Eventually Kate and the reader finds out what Raab is after, and why – and that’s rather a shock.
This is a competent enough, if rather formulaic and over-the-top thriller, though unfortunately Kate is the only character sufficiently fleshed out enough to be a real person. Her study seemed realistic, as did her friendship with Tina and relationship with (and later marriage to) Greg Herrara. I also liked the fact that the Raabs and Greg are explicitly Jewish characters, with a feeling of community behind them.
It’s a fast-moving story, though Kate doesn’t take the danger she is in sufficiently seriously; information is wilfully withheld from the protagonists for what seem to be solely plot-related reasons; Greg’s revelation is easily guessable from the beginning, and so on. Things happen suspiciously conveniently – Sharon (Kate’s mother) is about to tell Kate something important, but she’s stopped before she can do so – it’s revealed that Sharon knew from the start about her husband’s antecedents, but did she not ever think it might be important to tell someone at the FBI when he went missing? The FBI agents responsible for the Raabs’ protection also don’t give Kate any tips on how she might make herself less vulnerable – even if she’s not in the Witness Protection Program officially, you’d have thought they’d have given her some advice.
Anyway, I quite enjoyed this, despite the cavilling above, as a dumb thriller, though I was conscious of how fabricated (and at times ludicrous) the plot was, and no amount of detail about cell biology or rowing could disguise that fact. So, not entirely recommended.
Gross has, apparently, co-written a few books with that prolific writer of thrillers, James Patterson – who seems to rarely write a book by himself nowadays. I’ve never read anything by Patterson, so can’t say whether this is better or worse than one of his thrillers, but does make one wonder about the disinterestedness of that “tense and chilling” quote on the front cover.