Mouth to Mouth

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Overview

On a beautiful summer day, Ellen Chambers watches helplessly as her beloved teenage daughter marries the worst possible man. Ellen knows her new son-in-law has violent tendencies and is certain to make Moreen's life hell. As she wonders wistfully if it's possible to get away with murder, a handsome young stranger leans in to her and whispers, "It is."

The uninvited wedding guest is Neal Chambers, whom Ellen last saw twelve years earlier. The boy who left town in the wake of a ...

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Overview

On a beautiful summer day, Ellen Chambers watches helplessly as her beloved teenage daughter marries the worst possible man. Ellen knows her new son-in-law has violent tendencies and is certain to make Moreen's life hell. As she wonders wistfully if it's possible to get away with murder, a handsome young stranger leans in to her and whispers, "It is."

The uninvited wedding guest is Neal Chambers, whom Ellen last saw twelve years earlier. The boy who left town in the wake of a family tragedy has grown into a disarmingly attractive man. And Ellen, whose own marriage is crumbling, is desperately in need of a friend. Neal's offer of friendship--not to mention his offer to help out around the farm--seems to come at a perfect time.

But by accepting Neal's gifts of comfort, Ellen is inadvertently setting in motion events that will rock her world to its foundations, events that are pulling Ellen and Neal together into an inescapable web of lies, secrets, betrayals, and death...

From its first unsettling pages to its electrifying end, Mouth to Mouth is a novel of unparalleled power and suspense.

"A deft, highly charged erotic psychological thriller bristling with secrets and lies...Kimball hits the mark with this high-wire revenger's tragedy: a pitilessly intelligent examination of a family tortured by mistakes, misunderstandings, and malicious vengeance from the invigorating opening to the catastrophic finale."(—Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

"A dark, nasty story with a serpentine plot...and a stunning finale. Highly recommended, but not as bedtime reading."(—Booklist)

"In his second thriller, Kimball seduces the readerjust as successfully. He has created characters on which we want Neal to wreak his brand of justice, then makes us painfully aware of the finality and the horror of that justice."(—Library Journal)

"Intelligently crafted plot twists come at top speed, revealing interlocking family secrets, deaths to be avenged, hidden patterns to be discovered. The denouement is one gripping cliffhanger after another, a chilling melange of vengeance and obsession that will keep the reader glued to the page."(—Publishers Weekly)

"The tension is palpable...an interesting and twisted plot."(Cleveland Plain Dealer)

"The best suspense stories are the ones that creep up on you, breathe on your neck and jump back in the shadows when you turn around. Michael Kimball plays that game with unnerving skill in MOUTH TO MOUTH...Although the steel-trap plot is built for ultimate carnage, Kimball primes the mechanism with scenes of quiet beauty and subtle tension that seduce characters and readers alike on the slow, scenic route to a state of high anxiety."(The New York Times Book Review)

"Fascinating...the action really dazzles."(—St. Petersburg Times)

"Michael Kimball has a rare talent for capturing the erotic undercurrents flowing beneath his deeply flawed characters and is not afraid to explore the more extreme forms of behavior...a compelling thriller that delivers some strong jolts."(— The Chicago Tribune)

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Michael Kimball first caught my attention in 1985 with Firewater Pond, a boisterously comic novel set in rural Maine and populated by an assortment of aging hippies, horny teenagers, and scheming, small town politicians. After much too long a silence, Kimball resurfaced in 1996 with Undone, a suspense novel that marked a major change of artistic direction. Now, a mere four years later, Kimball has published his third novel, Mouth to Mouth. It too is a suspense novel, and it's a beauty: a moody, brooding, Gothic account of murder, madness, and festering family secrets.

Mouth to Mouth opens with a set piece in which most of the elements of the subsequent tragedy move quickly into view. The scene, ironically, is a wedding. Moreen Chambers, 17 years old and very pregnant, has just married a 27-year-old "outlaw" named Randy, a violent, potentially abusive loser who works as an enforcer for a local loan shark. Moreen's mother Ellen, whose own marriage has fallen on difficult times, despises her new son-in-law and foresees nothing but a bleak, unhappy future for her daughter. As Ellen stands contemplating the travesty-in-progress, looking like someone who is "wondering if it's possible to get away with murder," an attractive stranger whispers in her ear: "Actually, it is."

The stranger, it turns out, is Neal Chambers, 24-year-old nephew of Ellen's husband, Scott. Twelve years before, in the wake of his father's suicide, Neal and his mother had left the town of Destin, Maine, behind, and have not been heard from since. As we quickly learn, the "suicide" of Jonathan Chambers was the direct result of an adulterous affair between his brother, Scott, and his wife, April. That 12-year-old tragedy, the details of which have never been fully revealed, dominates the backdrop of the primary narrative, casting a long, remorseless shadow over everything that happens in this book.

Neal is a charismatic figure who exerts a powerful -- and immediate -- erotic hold over Ellen Chambers. Within days of Moreen's wedding, Neal is ensconced at the Chambers's sheep farm, having volunteered to rebuild their dilapidated barn, a task he completes, with almost superhuman efficiency, in 12 days. (Twelve, by the way, is a talismanic number for Neal, and shows up repeatedly throughout the novel.) At the same time, Neal volunteers to help Ellen resolve her son-in-law problem. Ellen's ambiguous response to this offer -- which she neither condones nor actively forbids -- comes back to haunt her when, early in the novel, Randy suffers a sudden "accident" while repairing a leak in the Chamber's dammed-up pond.

The next stage of the novel concerns Ellen's gradual realization that she has allowed a psychopath to enter her life, and that her son-in-law's fate is just a single element in a complex -- and demented -- agenda that Neal has been working toward since his father's suicide, 12 years before. This agenda encompasses Neal's entire family, all of whom have been targeted -- according to a bizarre but precise numerological system -- for punishments that reflect Neal's deeply twisted sense of poetic justice.

Mouth to Mouth is an intelligent, emotionally wrenching novel that does its work on more than one level. First of all, it is a tense, thoroughly professional thriller that becomes more and more absorbing as the narrative progresses. Kimball has the true writer's eye for character, action, and atmosphere, and his novel is filled with vividly constructed sequences -- a protracted drowning, a forbidden erotic encounter between Ellen and Neal, a staged conflagration in the Chambers's newly rebuilt barn, a climactic encounter in a frozen, flooded valley -- that are alternately frightening and hypnotically fascinating.

But the real heart of Mouth to Mouth is Kimball's painstaking portrait of a family collapsing under the combined weight of guilt, silence, and secrecy. As Neal proceeds with his schemes, he locates the fault lines in a damaged family that has more than its share of dysfunctional characteristics to begin with. As Ellen struggles helplessly against the tidal pull of events, her marriage flounders, her personal and professional lives slide simultaneously out of control, and her distant, incommunicative daughter drifts further and further out of reach. Kimball catches all of this with sympathy and precision, and the result is a powerful, sometimes desolating account of the destruction -- and partial reconstruction -- of a deeply vulnerable family. This, more than anything, gives Mouth to Mouth its emotional and dramatic center, lifting it well above the level of its numerous, less ambitious, competitors.

--Bill Sheehan

Cleveland Plain Dealer
The tension is palpable...an interesting and twisted plot.
New York Times Book Review
The best suspense stories are the ones that creep up on you, breathe on your neck and jump back in the shadows when you turn around. Michael Kimball plays that game with unnerving skill in Mouth To Mouth...Although the steel-trap plot is built for ultimate carnage, Kimball primes the mechanism with scenes of quiet beauty and subtle tension that seduce characters and readers alike on the slow, scenic route to a state of high anxiety.
St. Petersburg Times
Fascinating...the action really dazzles.
Chicago Tribune
Michael Kimball has a rare talent for capturing the erotic undercurrents flowing beneath his deeply flawed characters and is not afraid to explore the more extreme forms of behavior...a compelling thriller that delivers some strong jolts.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Many good suspense novels feature an imperiled heroine vaguely unaware of what's obvious to the reader, in this case, that the new man in her life is bad news. But Ellen Chambers, the protagonist of Kimball's second thriller (after Undone), remains in the dark about dangerous Neal Chambers for far too long; her excessive naivete is the one weak point in this otherwise solid psychological thriller. The mysterious young man is the nephew of Ellen's husband, Scott, whom they haven't seen for 12 years, since the day a family tragedy occurred. Neal appears suddenly at the wedding of Ellen's pregnant teenage daughter, Moreen, and stays on to help out Ellen and Scott rebuild the barn on their sheep farm in Destin, Maine. Alarm bells ring along with wedding bells in the opening chapter, when Ellen is worried sick about her rude, crude and violent new son-in-law. When Neal hints that he's going to somehow protect Ellen's family, the distressed mother trusts her nephew-by-marriage and overlooks how bizarre Neal really is. But Ellen should know better, as she's kept the terrible secret of the family's bloody, adulterous past for more than a decade. Jonathan, Neal's father and Scott's brother, hung himself when Ellen relayed her discovery that his wife was having an affair with Scott. The disturbed Neal has come back into the lives of his relatives with a sinister agenda, and Ellen's increasingly foolhardy intimacy with Neal provides an aggravating pothole in an otherwise clear descent into terror. Thankfully, once Ellen catches on, the tone of the book sharpens dramatically. Intelligently crafted plot twists come at top speed, revealing interlocking family secrets, deaths to be avenged, hidden patterns to be discovered. The denouement is one gripping cliffhanger after another, a chilling melange of vengeance and obsession that will keep readers glued to the page. Agent, Howard Morhaim. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Ellen Chambers is unable to stop her teenage daughter from marrying an abusive man ten years her senior, and her husband, Scott, refuses to see any problem. So when an attractive man appears at the wedding and tells Ellen it would be easy enough to get rid of her new son-in-law, a small part of her is ready to listen. The would-be helper is her husband's nephew, Neal. He soon demonstrates his ability to accomplish anything he wants, whether it is remodeling Ellen's barn in 12 days or convincing her that he has the perfect way to kill her daughter's new husband. In his second thriller, Kimball Undone seduces the reader just as successfully. He has created characters on which we want Neal to wreak his brand of justice, then makes us painfully aware of the finality and horror of that justice. Though he draws the climax out a bit, the story and characters are compelling and believable. Recommended for all public libraries.--Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L.-Pinney Branch, WI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380978205
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

On the crest of the hayfield, out ' side her sheep pasture, Ellen Chambers stood calmly under a green canopy tent while her son-in-law smothered her daughter with wedding cake. Randy was apparently teachingMoreen the first lesson of their married life, getting even with her for smearing his goatee with frosting while she'd fed him his slice. The wedding guests laughed. Even Moreen's high school friends thought it was funny, as Moreen tried to duck away from Randy, her swollen belly straining against the silk of her wedding dress. But when Randy wiped his hands on Moreen's dress, then stalked away from her, Ellen finally lost her composure and went to head him off at the beer keg.

"Is in my imagination, or is the groom not the son-in-law of your dreams?" Ellen heard the voice behind her. In her heels and close fitting skirt, her friend Maddy was doing her best to keep pace with her.

"He's twenty-seven years old," Ellen said. "She's a junior in high school."

"Shy girls always marry outlaws," Maddy said. "You did." She gently took hold of Ellen's arm, stopping her. "Anyway, you don't want to make a scene today."

Ellen shut her eyes, took a heavy breath. Madeleine Sterling had been, her closest friend since high school and usually gave good advice—it helped that she was a psychotherapist.

"So,"' Maddy said, changing the subject as she turned them around, "do I see more sheep in your pasture?"

Ellen laughed, finally grateful for Maddy's intervention. "We need the wool," Ellen told her. "The phone company's threatening to shut us off, the barn's falling down."

Maddy gave her friend a sympathetic look. "El,if it's just money you know I'd love to help."

Ellen shook her head. "Thanks. But we'll be fine. The wedding set us back a bit, that's all."

"Mm," Maddy said. "I also can't help but notice that the minute Moreen moves out, you expand your flock."

"Oh, Maddy, no analysis today." Ellen turned away and found herself making eye contact with a young man standing in the shade of the oak tree beside her house. She averted her eyes, as she had done twice already. Large and strikingly handsome, with dark eyes and long black sideburns, he nursed a Styrofoam cup of coffee. The cuffs of his white shirt were rolled up.

"No one seems to know anything about him," said Maddy, observing the direction of Ellen's glance.

"I'm sure you've asked around."

"Discreetly."

Ellen mustered a smile.

"His hair, " Maddy went on in a low voice, covering her mouth. "Would you call that wavy or curly?" Maddy ran her hand through her own jet-black cut, which matched her black silk designer suit. Though Ellen loved Maddy, the friends couldn't have been more different. Twice divorced, Maddy was always on the lookout for her next conquest.

Ellen had been married since her teens and looked homespun, even when dressed up. Her hair was long and mahogany-colored; it fell down the middle of her back in a thick braid. She was tall, but with a curve to her hip and breast. At thirty-six, Ellen felt strong and healthy and young—much too young to be a grandmother.

How old do you think?" Maddy asked, eyeing the dark young man. "Thirty-three? Not a day younger than thirty."

"Dream on. Twenty," insisted Ellen, just as the young man glanced over at her again. Uncomfortable, she turned to look for Scott, her husband, spotted him leaning against the paddock fence with their new son-in-law. The two men were smoking cigars and talking intently. Scott, with his easy manner and ready smile, worked hard to make sure nobody in Destin disliked him. It bothered Ellen to see him trying so hard with Randy.

She heard a sudden burst of singing, and turned to see Moreen standing at the beer keg with her friends, posing for snapshots with her arms around them, swaying and singing along with the three-piece band.

Unavoidable, Ellen supposed, the way Moreen mirrored her own young life: the rebellion, the recklessness, the careless pregnancy, the misfit husband. But somehow, across all these years, the reflection seemed so warped—almost as though Moreen was knowingly orchestrating her own destruction.

"I feel like she's drowning herself, and there's nothing I can do to save her," Ellen whispered to her friend.

"Don't you think that's a, wee bit overstated?"

"Maddy, I don't even know her anymore," Ellen said, sorrow almost closing her throat. "It's like I just opened my eyes, and here we are.

Maddy gave her a look. "You're both growing up," she said. "That's called life."

"Call it what you want," Ellen said. "It's not the life I wanted. For her or me."

"Ladies and gentlemen, get out your hankies," the singer announced, his amplified voice booming over the valley and echoing back off the wooded hillside. By now Ellen's sheep had flocked to the farthest corner of the fenced-in pasture, down to the right, where the stream came out of the woods. Ellen imagined the gray coyotes, whose nightly baying she'd been hearing for weeks, slinking down the hill beyond the fences and stream, stalking them.

"Because right now, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to get the bride and her father up here on the dance floor."

Ellen turned, saw Scott stub his cigar out on the gate,set his drink on top of the cedar post, and start walking toward the canopy. Eyes sparkling, he still maintained some of his youthful charm-his tourmaline stud and black ponytail countering the fullness of his face. Everyone knew he was about to lose his hardware store-this, after he'd been one of Destin's, most prosperous young men only ten years ago-but he carried himself with a staunch, countrified dignity as he searched the crowd for his daughter.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2010

    Good Reading!

    Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It was slow in spots, parts were stretched out, but I liked the twists and turns. --K--

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2004

    Don't miss this book

    This book was a fantastic thriller, and just when you think you have it all figured out, you find out it's different than you thought! Great read, hard to put down, and would make a fantastic movie!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2001

    Excellent Read!

    Thank you Michael Kimball! Mouth To Mouth is so intense. I live in So. New Hampshire which makes it even more exciting. With every sentence the author pulls you deeper and deeper into the thick of it all--exposing twist after twist--it's hard to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2001

    STAY UP ALL NIGHT

    This book is impossible to put down for the 'thriller' lovers out there A must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2001

    Great book!

    Loved it, kept me in suspense and wanting more. Would definately recommend this one. Going to get the book 'UNDONE' next and can't wait to read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2001

    AN AWESOME THRILLER THAT CONTINUOUSLY SURPRISES!

    In UNDONE, Michael Kimball thrilled and surprised me with the depth and clarity of his writing, not to mention his skills at weaving a novel of such complexity that I was kept guessing right up till the end. Not many authors are able to do that for me. Now, in his newest novel, MOUTH TO MOUTH, Mr. Kimball¿s writing reaches a much higher level of expertise, making me wonder why his name isn¿t known to more readers. I mean, this is an author from Maine who¿s eventually going to give Stephen King a run for his money, unless Mr. King is having some fun with his fans by pulling another ¿Richard Bachman¿. In the opening chapter of MOUTH TO MOUTH, the reader encounters Ellen Chambers¿a local school teacher, artist, and sheep farmer¿at the wedding of her seventeen-year-old daughter, feeling a great deal of apprehension at the marriage of Moreen to Randy Cross. Randy is ten years older than Moreen. He¿s also a man who¿s mean by nature and works as strong-arm collector for the local loan shark. Ellen would like nothing better than to see him dead, until a stranger at the wedding whispers in her ear, ¿Anything¿s possible.¿ The stranger turns out to be Neal Chambers, the nephew of her husband, Scott. Ellen and Scott haven¿t seen their nephew in over twelve years, since the funeral of Neal¿s father. As it turns out, it was exactly twelve years before when Ellen caught her husband having an affair with Neal¿s mother. Ellen immediately told her brother-in-law about the affair, which also happened to be the day of Neal¿s twelfth birthday. That afternoon, Neal¿s father¿out of shame for the affair between his wife and brother¿supposedly committed suicide by hanging himself from the rafters of Ellen¿s barn. Neal¿s life was never the same after that, and now he¿s come back after a long absence because Ellen, Scott and Moreen are all the family he has left. The real question, however, is whether or not Neal has come back for the love of his relatives or to get revenge on the people who destroyed his own family so long ago? Seduced by her nephew¿s youth, good looks and confidence, Ellen finds herself drawn into a web of lies and betrayal that starts with sex and eventually leads to murder¿a lot of murders! Will Ellen be able to save herself and her family, or has Neal planned his revenge so well that no one will be able to rescue them from the sins of their past? MOUTH TO MOUTH is a taut, utterly suspenseful thriller that builds to an exploding climax at such a rapid pace that it will leave the reader breathless. Happily, I once again experienced the inability to guess or predict what would take place during each stage of this riveting story, eagerly reading page after page in a mad rush to get to the end. I found the character of Neal Chambers to not only be a genius at the art of manipulation and revenge, but also, in many ways, the living Antichrist, hell-bent on making each member of Ellen¿s family suffer emotionally before death finally arrives. I was continuously surprised by how Mr. Kimbal was able to structure his novel by upping the stakes for the main characters as layer after layer of psychological suspense unfolded, propelling the reader forward in the quest for clues and answers. The unique twists and turns of the story had me wondering if Ellen Chambers would actually make it out alive; and, if so, at what cost to her sanity and soul. Mr. Kimball leaves me in a state of awe at how an author of this caliber could appear from out of nowhere. It usually takes a writer several novels or more to reach this stage of advancement. His work is definitely that of a seasoned pro¿the writing sharp, yet smoothly textured with not a word wasted. He clearly understands the nature of people and is able to capture it, along with the atmosphere of small-town living, in such vivid detail that it seems almost as if he¿s taking the reader on a personal, guided tour of Maine¿s version of hell. I have to say that the discovery of M

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2000

    Mouth to Mouth

    This is a really great book. I can't wait to read Mike's next one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2000

    Mouth to Mouth

    This is a great book. Michael Kimball is just a terrific writer. I can't wait for his next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2000

    WOW!

    I've read many, many mysteries (mostly British) and many psychological thrillers, but this is by far the best I've read in a long time! I like the fact that the blood and gore are balanced by the very well-written character depictions, and the pastoral scenes of the sheep on the farm make a good contrast to the rest of the chilling plot. I finished this in two days, only because I had to sleep a little, and I can't wait to read Undone, his earlier work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2000

    I Could Not Put This Book Down !!!!

    This book was fantastic. This was a story about ordinary people, trying to live their ordinary lives. But, someone changed all of that. Although you may think you knew what was going to happen, whether you were right or wrong was not important. The storyline took you right up to the very last chapter. I am running out to buy Kimball's first book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2000

    Psychological suspense at its best!

    Kimball's character creates a complex web, then steps back to watch as all the 'flys' entangle themselves. So many twists and turns; don't start this book unless you have nothing else to do, because chances are you won't get anything else done! Four years after his last excellent novel 'Undone', Kimball has once again proven that he is a master of thrill and suspense! Mr. Kimball, please don't make us wait too long for your next!

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