Skyjack (Thea Paris #2), by K.J. Howe

Nine stars

K.J. Howe brings just as much excitement in this follow-up novel as her debut brought curious readers! Without a doubt, this piece keeps the reader’s attention through to the final page flip while packing a punch throughout. This goes to show that she is not a one-hit wonder and will likely make a name for herself for years to come. After securing the adoption of two young African boys with a London family, Thea Paris is flying with Ayan and Jabari to their new home. Trying to explain what to expect in the United Kingdom, Paris realises that these two know only the life of being child soldiers, but hopes this new beginning helps let them be children again. When the plane on which they are travelling is skyjacked, Thea is forced to go into work mode, trained as a kidnap and ransom negotiator with Quantum International Security. As events unfold upon their landing in the Libyan desert, Thea discovers that the group responsible has their eye on one particular passenger, but will not elaborate. Thea negotiates the release of the passengers, but only if she will make her way to Turkey and secure a transport vehicle for the hijackers. Baffled, Thea agrees to do whatever she can to help, especially if it means she can get to London and save these boys from more devastation. Meanwhile, Austrian teen Johann Dietrich comes to learn that his father heads up an ultra-nationalist group that seeks to rid the world of Arabs the world over, blaming them for a handful of recent terror attacks. Armed with this knowledge, Johann goes through channels to reach Thea Paris, hoping she can properly synthesise what is to come and the fallout. Johann tries to make his way to Turkey, but is not alone, and the results could be disastrous. WIth the passengers still being held hostage and armed with this news, Thea pieces together what is going on and how all of Europe could be in danger, if she does not act swiftly. Howe keeps the reader on the edge of their seat through to the final chapter in this sensational second thriller with a unique spin. Recommended for those who love the fast pace of hostage rescue with a political bent.

I remember reading Howe’s debut and being very impressed, not only with the writing style, but the unique angle she took when it came to kidnap thrillers. Her personal experiences are not only helpful in pulling factual information and weaving it into the story, but there is surely some of Howe in Paris’ character. Thea Paris is a tough-as-nails woman who takes her job seriously. Her compassion comes through in an attempt to get her young charges to London, but she is also full of determination when negotiating the release of hostages. The reader will surely latch onto her early in this piece, particularly if they have the backstory of the debut novel. Thea surrounds herself with some of the world’s best at Quantum, leaving the reader to see others who are well-versed in security and human extraction, all while trying to limit the bloodshed. The handful of other characters, from passengers to those promoting terror, all play their essential role in this piece, which keeps the story moving forward. The narrative and larger plot are both highly digestible and the attentive reader will find themselves engrossed with both as the pages fly by. Easily read in a few sittings, Howe shows that her ability to convey intense information flows smoothly. Of particular interest is the sub-plot about Arab extermination, specially the parallels that Howe makes with Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ of the Jews. The reader can see that this is a plausible plan by some ultra-nationalist groups, particularly with the massive numbers of displaced individuals around Europe, though I am sure it could just as easily happen on other continents. Full of realistic situations backed up with intricate knowledge of goings-on, Howe’s novel is not only a must read, but will keep the reader thinking long after turning that final page.

Kudos, Madam Howe, for another strong novel. I love your ideas and presentation, hoping that Thea Paris has the energy to stick it out for a long time to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Freedom Broker (Thea Paris #1), by K. J. Howe

Eight stars

My curiosity piqued by seeing a promotional poster on Goodreads, I had to give this one a look. K.J. Howe storms onto the scene with her debut novel that pulls together a number of interesting perspectives and keeps the reader on their toes throughout. Athena ‘Thea’ Paris is a world-renowned and respected kidnap and rescue specialist, working for Quantum International Security. Her team has been able to facilitate the release of numerous high-ranking CEOs and members of the business community, though rarely without bloodshed. Heading to Greece for the annual celebration of her father’s name-day, Thea is rocked when she discovers the deck of Aphrodite, Christos Paris’ yacht, covered in blood and the bodies of his staff lay dead in the scorching sun. An oil tycoon and ruthless businessman, Christos is definitely on the radar of many kidnappers seeking a high-price payout for his safe return. All that is left on the yacht his cell, with a cryptic Latin message that has Thea sure that this is no run-of-the-mill kidnapper. While Thea assembles her team and tries to keep the news from making its way into media outlets, someone else is being summoned to help with the investigation. Gabrielle Farrah, former CIA and currently on the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, is on her way at the invitation of Maximilian Heros, part of the Greek police forces and a one-time flame. Farrah has a great deal of experience working with hostages as well, especially during her mission to track down Ares, a kidnapper and weapon’s dealer who has made his mark all over the world. While Thea tries to find clues to her father’s kidnapping, Farrah and Heros foist themselves into the investigation, hoping to help in any way they can, though they are not privy to the inside scoop. Thea must also handle her brother, Nikos, who has been estranged from their father, but who has a kidnap history of his own and wants to get to the bottom of the ordeal. Taken for nine months as a teenager, Nikos remains scarred with the memories of his African captors, though has made a name for himself as a philanthropist and advocate against child soldiers. The further Thea takes the investigation, the more cryptic messages appear, all of which relate to famous quotes but offer little insight into where Christos might be held. Those closest to the oil tycoon seem to be dying off, particularly when they have knowledge of what might have happened, but never in time to share insights with Thea. With an important negotiation for Paris Industries to secure the oil rights in Kanzi, located in sub-Saharan Africa, Thea heads to the region to represent her father and try to track him down. Nikos has his own plan and seeks to secure the best deal to ensure there is a monetary incentive for all the strings he has pulled, but is thrust into memories of his childhood terrors. As Thea inches closer to learning of her father’s whereabouts, someone has slipped her all the relevant documentation tied to her brother’s kidnapping and captivity, which offers a new perspective and might fuel new motives for kidnapping. With Ares potentially behind the kidnapping and Christos Paris still missing, Thea must use all the resources at her disposal to bring her father home with as little bloodshed as possible. A powerful story full of drama, action, and attention to detail that shows how some authors have the knack when they hit the ground running in the industry. Well worth investigating by any reader with a penchant for exciting thrillers.

I mentioned in a recent review that an author’s first impression is key for me. If I like what I find, I will usually try to keep them on my radar, though a poorly crafted novel can leave me pushing away and on to find my next great author. Howe enters the thriller genre with an interesting approach; a kidnap-ransom theme and a female protagonist. Thea Paris is developed well throughout the novel, including some backstory and complex personal struggles, which helps the reader better relate to her as she races around the world to save the rich and somewhat famous. Howe has also been able to complement Thea with an assortment of other characters whose stories will surely continue to play well in the next few novels, should Howe decide to keep writing. The kidnap theme, while not new in many of the novels I have read, is a central focus and will therefore allow readers to see things from this perspective. The plot advances nicely and keeps the reader wondering, with drama and action on two continents, but does take time to develop the narrative. The reader does not feel a sense of literary whiplash as they race around the world, nor is there a feeling that kidnapping is all about jet setting from one posh location to the next. Of particular interest is how the backstory of the Nikos Paris kidnapping serves as a launching pad for the plot as well as flavouring a number of the characters found in the narrative. I would strongly recommend this book and do hope that the ‘Thea Paris #1’ in the title is indicative of another fast-paced novel in the works. I can only hope many others find Howe as interesting as I have.

Kudos, Madam Howe for a great debut novel. The praise on the dust jacket by some of my favourite authors is well-placed and I will surely promote your writing to anyone who will listen.