THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD. By Michael Koryta. Little, Brown and Co. 400 pages. $26.
Michael Koryta's latest novel skillfully melds a thrilling adventure story set against the Montana wilderness with a poignant coming-of-age story.
"Those Who Wish Me Dead" moves at a brisk pace as Koryta weaves in themes of redemption, survival and grief to illustrate how ethical choices can reverberate.
Teen Jace Wilson is spending the afternoon jumping in the pool of an abandoned quarry near his Indiana home when he dives next to a dead body. Jace then witnesses two men in police uniforms dragging a man to the quarry and killing him. Jace escapes, but leaves behind his identification and clothes, which the men find. To keep him safe, former U.S. marshal turned security expert Jamie Bennett places Jace in a Montana wilderness training program for troubled teens run by survival expert Ethan Serbin.
To protect Jace, Ethan won't know which of the seven boys he is. Witness protection doubling as wilderness training is a logical idea for Ethan, who found his own salvation in the woods when he was on the path to becoming a juvenile delinquent. It was more than just being able to build a fire, Ethan knew, it was the self-confidence that survival skills had given him and the teens in his charge that could translate into any situation, rural or urban. "... a candle of self-confidence, it could accomplish great things," Ethan remembers.
In the woods, Jace begins moving toward adulthood. His maturation - and Ethan's skills - will be tested when the two killers make their way into the wilderness.
Koryta's vivid Montana landscape scenes pulsate with the smells and sounds of the great outdoors. His three-dimensional characters realistically explore the choices they are forced to make as the author keeps the plot twisting with believable turns. Even as he matures in this high-stakes situation, Jace retains the persona of a teenager. It would be easy to make caricatures of the killers, with their odd speaking patterns and creepy stares, cutting a swath of violence in their wake, but Koryta is careful to make these murderous brothers frighteningly real.
The author's affinity for sculpting enthralling stories continues in "Those Who Wish Me Dead."