"The Ninth Step" by Grant Jerkins
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Two cars crash. One passenger is killed.
One survivor, drunk out of her mind, leaves the scene.
In the other vehicle, the driver was distracted from his steering by a handheld computer device.
This "over the neighbors' fence" mystery/thriller zooms in on those survivors' lives, before and after the hit-and-run wreck.
The man-- who was placing a last-second bid on an online auction while attempting to steer his vehicle-- loses his wife, who had just discovered that she was pregnant, following years of fertility treatments.
He's a somewhat nebbishy high-school geometry teacher, complete with soda-pop-bottle-thick bifocals.
For those of a certain age, he may bring to mind Wally Cox, about to transform into a skewed version of Underdog.
He's "functional OCD," obsessed with equations, charts, graphs, and puzzle boxes, and most definitely into a hyperorganized lifestyle.
The woman who leaves the scene of the car crash is a veterinarian who worships at the altar of Swedish vodka
She has been a functional alcoholic all her adult life, yet has seeped into a dangerous phase of blackouts and bottoms-upping minibottles at work.
She has no one-- neither friends nor family-- unless one counts the "abandoned at her practice" animals that she has brought home.
Although she splits the scene of the accident-- she doesn't recall being there until a news report parts her barroom-binge, morning-after haze-- the collision rings the wake-up call that jettisons her into a recovery program, which encompasses the daunting ninth step involving making amends.
Therein lie plot paths that cross the abyss between the two survivors.
Atlanta author Grant Jerkins layers these characters brick-by-brick so that the reader can relate to their ever-intersecting plights and become immersed in their post-accident motivations.
Jerkins produces a novel as magnetic as Harlan Coben's first stand-alone thrillers, with swirling tones of top-shelf 1940s noir mingled with the Hitchcockian essence of characters who have forfeited their lives to random redirection.
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