The Barnes & Noble Review
Let me preface this review by saying that the cover of And Then You Die... gives no indication of the enormous sweep of this fast, lean read. On the cover, a young woman runs in terror down the twilit streets of a white-picket-fence community. But as short as this novel isa trim 278 pagesit packs the wallop of a mini-epic. Iris Johansen is no prose artist. She is an expert storyteller, pure and simple. And Then You Die... is a page-turner of a novel, and would make a terrific movie. From its opening moments, it is pure action and suspense, with the romantic aspects of the story arising naturally as the thrills increase.
Bess Grady is used to the horrors of war. She is familiar with the monsters that some human beings become when it comes to international games of power. Bess is an international photojournalist who thought her worst nightmare occurred when she photographed the aftermath of a massacre while on assignment in Croatia. But when she accepts a much lighter assignment from 'Traveler' magazine, a worse nightmare awaits her.
She takes her older sister, Dr. Emily Grady Corelli, along with her on a jaunt down to a small out-of-the-way Mexican village. When they arrive, the town of Tenajo is eerily silent. As they wander the empty streets, the two sisters begin to find one corpse after another. Soon, it becomes apparent that every single human being in Tenajo has died suddenly. Emily, using her medical expertise, assumes this may be an outbreak of something like cholera. Bess, meanwhile, rescues the one lone survivor, a baby. Butwhen Bess sees government troops heading down to the village, she forces her older sister to take the baby and hide. Bess has seen other places where local governments have done terrible things to their own people. As Emily runs off with the baby they've named Josie, Bess is overtaken by a man called Kaldak, who proceeds to knock her unconscious.
When Bess awakes, she is in a hospital room under some restraint. A man called Esteban interrogates her. Kaldak shows up, too, and Bess now is terrified that both her sister and the baby have been killed. She is sure that these men are involved in the killings of all the people in Tenajo. Yet, Kaldak helps her find the baby Josie in the hospital, and the two of them escape. But can she trust him?
Then, Bess slowly begins to learn the secrets of what may have been a truly evil experiment upon the population of Tenajo, and to find out the real reason she is still alive. This will set her on a path of terror that will take her back to the United States, and to the darkest moments of her life.
Having summed up the plot here, I have to tell you that this describes only a third of the novel. If I were to reveal anything else of the story of And Then You Die...,it would destroy half the fun of Johansen's tale. Events, facts, and secret conspiracies unravel. With each twist of the tale, another follows close behind. The action goes from Croatia, to Mexico, to Atlanta, to New Orleans, to Wyoming, and many points in between. There's a mutating virus, the CIA, hired assassins, and one truly evil mastermind.
Those looking for one of Johansen's all-out romances may initially be discouraged, since the romance doesn't rear its head until the last third of the book. However, this is definitely a novel for romance readers who love Harrison Ford movies and also love strong heroines who aren't merely part of the scenery. Kaldak, who might be the hero or might very well be Bess's worst nightmare, is fascinating and mysterious. Bess Grady is a terrific heroine to follow over the course of this novel, and the action never lets up. Some of the background details are a bit rushed, but this keeps Johansen's storytelling foot on the accelerator.
And Then You Die... is like taking off on an aircraft carrier jet. It doesn't just soar, it zooms.Jessi Rose Lucas