Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

Book Description:

When fourteen-year-old Jace Wilson witnesses a brutal murder, he's plunged into a new life, issued a false identity and hidden in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens. The plan is to get Jace off the grid while police find the two killers. The result is the start of a nightmare.

The killers, known as the Blackwell Brothers, are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way in a methodical quest to reach him. Now all that remains between them and the boy are Ethan and Allison Serbin, who run the wilderness survival program; Hannah Faber, who occupies a lonely fire lookout tower; and endless miles of desolate Montana mountains.

The clock is ticking, the mountains are burning, and those who wish Jace Wilson dead are no longer far behind.

Those Who Wish Me Dead  by Michael Koryta is a different sort of thriller.  Set mainly in the wilderness of Montana, this is the story of a boy who witnesses a murder and needs to hide from the killers in a somewhat unconventional setting.  The killers appear to have a connection to law enforcement which makes normal methods of securing a witness unsafe.

The man selected to safeguard young Jace is a survivalist teacher, Ethan Serbin, whose clients are military, law enforcement and similar types part of the year, and troubled youth the other part of the year.  What’s refreshing is that Ethan is not a supernaturally skilled fighter or marksman.  He teaches survival skills and has an intimate knowledge of the Montana wilderness.

The two brothers on the heels of the young boy entrusted to Ethan’s protection are cold, calculating, cautious, and almost preternaturally skilled killers.  They exude quiet menace.  When they arrive in Montana, the tension and danger ratchet up.  The boy slips away from Ethan and the group of boys with him in the mountain and it becomes a race to find him.  A fire started by the killers threatens the mountain and adds to the danger.  Jace enlists the help of a fire ranger fighting demons of her own and the race is on in earnest to see who will escape and who will die.

One of the best parts of this book is the strength of the characters.  Ethan’s wife Allison and the fire ranger, Hannah, are the equal of any of the men and are not in need of rescuing.  The brother killers are highly skilled, but not overconfident, making the outcome in doubt all the way to the end.  It seems sometimes like they are unrealistically lucky in putting things together, but Koryta explains this in surprising but credulous ways.

There is a lot of writing skill on display in this story.  Not the most conventional thriller, but highly entertaining.  Recommended read.

I listened to the audio version of this book which was done quite well.  The characters were distinct and easy to differentiate.  Narrator Robert Petkoff does a particularly good job of capturing the menace and eerie cadence of the speech of the brothers, Jack and Patrick.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this audiobook.

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