The story involves Hope, a forest ranger, who plans to go on a rafting trip with her sister, Faith, when she receives an emergency message about a downed plane. Faith, who is a city girl by nature, has to join the rafting trip without her sister but immediately finds a protector in the mysterious Jay. Hope has to track down the plane and solve a related homicide with the help of Sam, a mountain climber who has just shit-loads of emotional baggage, including, wait for it…AMNESIA! Sorry, I have a personal policy that anytime amnesia shows up as a trope, it must be described thusly: AMNESIA!
Anyway, I was beyond thrilled to realize that this book takes place in and around Mineral King. I've totally hiked in Mineral King! I worked for a summer in Kings Canyon National Park, but I was not a forest ranger. I was a dishwasher. I cannot overstate the vast social and economic chasm that separates forest rangers from dishwashers. Anyway, I'm pleased to say that the author seems to have done her homework, or at least read a map. I don't believe there's a Long Pine Lodge anywhere in the vicinity, but at some point the author had to come up with a way for her protagonists to take a shower and eat nice food, so if she invented a lodge with room service (REALLY?) I say more power to her.
So, given the fact that I have such warm and happy memories of hiking in Mineral King, I was really into this book when it started. And I have to admit that it was the kind of page-turner that makes it hard for me to do things like sleep until I've finished it. At first I admired the way the two female characters were very different, but both seen as admirable in different ways. However, things started to devolve pretty quickly. Here's a more or less spoiler free breakdown of the characters, including what I liked and what bugged me:
Hope: Hope is a forest ranger with a Dark Secret. She feels a lot of shame and guilt around her past. Most of the time, she is the more conventional of the two sisters and not promiscuous, but she has a one night stand with Scott and is horrified to realize that she has to work with him to track the plane and then to track the killer. She is physically strong and has all kinds of mountain skills and is quite the badass, and yet, she is constantly bursting into tears and/or being rescued by Scott, which drove me crazy. Also, by the end of the book, Hope has been thrown out of so many vehicles that if I were her I'd just walk everywhere from now on.
Scott: Scott is a professional mountain climber with a Dark Secret. Scott actually has pretty plausible physiological case for his amnesia (sorry…his AMNESIA!) and he's a jerk but he has plausible reasons for being a jerk. He makes an odd swerve into total emotional commitment near the end that was so extreme that is was a little bit creepy.
Faith: Faith is capable of some serious attempts at ass kicking. She really tries; she disassembles a toilet like a champ and she earns extra points for attacking a guy by tripping him with her prone, fully tied up body. But she's really the book's designated victim. Anything awful that can happen, happens to Faith, which is pretty unsettling since she happens to be the sister who's more free with her sexuality in general and sometimes I felt like she was being punished for her sexual background. I felt really ambivalent about the portrayal of Faith – in some ways I thought it was pretty realistic and in other ways I thought it involved some major slut shaming. Faith was funny, and she was capable of a great deal of self-awareness and wisdom, and she certainly deserved better than a violent sociopath for a boyfriend.
Javier, AKA Jay: What. The. Fuck. This guy is not a romantic hero. He's not even a romantic, old school, brooding hero. He's a violent criminal with a propensity towards lying, stalking, and emotional manipulation. As a character, I can get interested in him. I'm horrified that he fits description of potential love interest for anyone, let alone Faith, who has a history of being the victim of violent crimes and emotional manipulation. I'm appalled.
I haven't read much romantic suspense. Any violence towards women and children, or graphic, sadistic violence towards anyone, is so upsetting to me that I can't get any warm fuzzy feelings out of the book. There's probably a lot of romantic suspense that doesn't have those specific plotlines, but based on my limited experience with the genre, I don't think I'm cut out to review it. To say, “I liked this book except for the violence” seems sort of unfair when it's marketed as a book that contains a lot of violence.
With regard to the violence in Freefall, here's the most objective assessment I can come up with. The violence involved fairly realistic consequences to both the victims and the perpetrators, in a variety of ways. I admire that. It was graphic and although it did not involve violence against children there was a lot of sexual violence and threats of sexual violence, primarily against women but in one case implied to have happened to a man. The writing was strong enough that the scenes were both compelling – I wanted to find out what happened – and upsetting. I'm on the fence about whether or not the scenes of sexual violence were written in a titillating manner, and it concerns me that the character that is sexually attacked is the one with the most promiscuous sexual history. Make of this what you will.
NB: My copy is an ARC, so it doesn't have a cover, but I did check out the upcoming cover on Amazon, and it just…there are no words. Caption this, people. Is he farting river water? Is he annoyed because he's being interrupted in the act of trying to pee down the side of a mountain? What is going on here, and why, God, why did I ever have to see it? Please, Bitches, explain this to me so I can once again think peaceful, happy thoughts.