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Book Review: Getaway by Lisa Brackmann

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Puerto Vallarta is a tropical destination with pristine, sandy beaches and funky little bars replete with thatched roofs where the tequila flows freely and your cares and woes melt away. A virtual paradise on the Mexican coast, surrounded by, yet untouched by the political and criminal chaos that is the rest of Mexico with its drug wars and rampant corruption. A place where dressing for dinner means putting on a shirt or wrapping a sarong over your bikini.

Michelle Mason, recently widowed and finding her husband has left her in financial ruin and socially ostacized, decides it is just the place to Getaway
from the bankers, debt collectors and lawyers before having to face an uncertain future that she is woefully unprepared to deal with.

When she meets a handsome fellow American on the beach and they wind up in her hotel room, Michelle decides this night of sex is just what she needs before departing paradise for the daunting prospects awaiting her back in the states. But, awakened from the languid atmosphere of post-coital bliss by two masked men who have broken into her room, beaten Daniel unconscious and left him bleeding on the floor, Michelle is shaken out of her tropical languor. The police tell her, Vallarta is still Mexico after all.

When Michelle finally decides to return the L.A., her cab is stopped and conveniently the cop finds cocaine in her bag. She is thrown into a Mexican jail and not given a phone call or any explanation. The deplorable conditions are described in grizzly detail. After a day or so the mysterious Gary shows up, he claims to be a friend of Daniel’s and semi-officially attached to the American Embassy, but he refuses to give her her passport, and instead of taking her to the Embassy, he takes her to a back street hotel.

Gary has a proposition for Michelle. Watch Danny. Report back on who he sees, what they say. An don’t try and sabotage the operation or tip him off. Gary and his ‘organization’ will know if she does. In return, he’ll square her with the Mexican official, get her passport back, and perhaps even fix her financial situation back in L.A.

Michelle is plunged into a nether world of Puerto Vallarta expatriates, shady Mexican businessmen who seem to be Danny’s employers, smugglers and Mexican uber rich, upper crust wheelers and dealers. She doesn’t know who to trust, she can no longer trust her instincts to discern good guys from bad guys, and she come to realize that everybody is bad to one degree or another and that no one is entirely who they seem to be.

Brackmann tells the story in gritty prose, using all the black keys to set a noirish mood across the bright, sunny beaches of Vallarta. The book is a thriller, with a romantic theme and borders on noir, with every character being tainted by life, greed or their surroundings. Even Michelle is not untainted, what does she have to go home to? And despite her suspicions of drug dealings and cartel involvement, she plays his lover, all the while planning to take the Judas silver to destroy him and save herself.

Brackmann writes in an engaging way that languidly draws the reader in, while driving the plot with the abandon of a Tijuana taxi driver. A great writer can often tell a story with the words he or she leaves out, without all the details but by emersing the reader into the character of the characters and letting them finish scenes in their mind. Backmann excels at this and as finally more and more of the main characters motives are revealed, to one degree or another, and the devils both the reader and the protagonist know and don’t know step into the light we finally see that everyone is tainted but not everyone is evil.

Getaway is Lisa Brackmann’s second novel after 2010’s acclaimed Rock Paper Tiger, which was set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010? lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.

A San Diego native, she now resides in Venice, California.She’ has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. In Junior High School, she settled ona career as Secretary of State. In college she finally set goals that were more realistic and settled on a career path of becoming an incredibly famous and wealthy Hollywood screenwriter.

Then came the unexpected: She found herself in China shortly after the Cultural Revolution, at the beginning of Deng’s reform era. Upon returning to the state, she says, is when she experienced culture shock, China being such an alien experience. She embarked on a career of music and screenwriting that eventually lead her to write her first novel. Getwaway breaks the sophomore jinx and shows her to be a forced to be reckoned with in the Thriller World. She has an ability to tweak the genre, and pinch bits and pieces from others to create a niche that makes her story telling as distinctive as the aroma of a fine wine…or aged bottle of tequila.

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I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.