Review: One Breath Away By Heather Gudenkauf

Title: One Breath Away

Author: Heather Gudenkauf

Published: MIRA June 2012

Synopsis: In the midst of a sudden spring snowstorm, an unknown man armed with a gun walks into an elementary classroom. Outside the school, the town of Broken Branch watches and waits. Officer Meg Barrett holds the responsibility for the town’s children in her hands. Will Thwaite, reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren by the daughter who left home years earlier, stands by helplessly and wonders if he has failed his child again. Trapped in her classroom, Evelyn Oliver watches for an opportunity to rescue the children in her care. And thirteen- year-old Augie, already struggling with the aftermath of a terrible accident that has brought her to Broken Branch, will risk her own safety to protect her little brother. As tension mounts with each minute, the hidden fears and grudges of the small town are revealed as the people of Broken Branch race to uncover the identity of the stranger who holds their children hostage.

Status: Read on June 20, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Harlequin/NetGalley}

My Thoughts:

Keeping the tension high with short chapters, shifts in perspective and a situation that every parent dreads in the wake of Columbine and similar school tragedies, Gudenkauf has written a pacy suspense thriller that kept me turning the pages into the early hours of the morning.

In small town Iowa, a gunman holds a school hostage. Outside a blizzard rages while the police scramble to identify the man and prevent a massacre. Thousands of miles away a mother receives a phone call, “He has a gun.”

The present tense narrative unfolds through the first person viewpoints of Augie, a thirteen year old girl, whose brother, PJ is a hostage in the third grade classroom, Holly, Augie and PJ’s mother who is thousands of miles away in hospital recovering from severe burns after a house fire, and Officer Meg Barrett who is doing everything she can to ensure the safety of the school children. A third person narrative reveals the thoughts and actions of Will Thwaite, the grandfather of Augie and PJ who waits helplessly to learn the fate of his grandchildren, and Mrs Oliver, the third grade teacher who is confined with her class of 8 year olds and the gunman, terrified but determined to protect her students at any cost. The multiple perspectives reveals what is happening within and outside the school and allows the author to provide the background of the characters caught up in the nightmare, so that their motivations make sense in the midst of the crisis.

Gudenkauf uses subtle misdirection to conceal the identity of the gunman, with several suspects and possible motives in the frame creating a strong element of mystery. The motive of the hostage taker is also hidden until the last few pages which plays into the tension. It is suspense that drives the novel, what is unknown about the situation and what is possible. There are flashes of violence but really it is simple fear for the characters that sustains the tension.

One Breath Away is a taut, compelling novel of suspense that had me hooked from the first page.

Available To Purchase

@Harlequin Australia

@Amazon I @Book Depository

24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. laurelrainsnow
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 08:29:19

    I can’t wait to read this one! I have preordered it and should get it next week! Thanks for the great review.

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  2. Tien
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 09:56:06

    Good review! Sounds like you totally enjoyed it but I don’t think I can handle it… I might end up locking my son in the house and never letting him out! LOL… I’m turning out to be really protective :p

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  3. Tea Time with Marce
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 10:05:19

    I LOVED Weight of Silence and enjoyed Hidden….. so I look forward to this one also. I’m glad she continued the style of multiple characters telling the story.

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  4. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 10:15:36

    I loved this one, too (I’m waiting for my tour date to come up to post my review). Gudenkauf is very, very good at building tension.

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  5. Danielle
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 10:33:28

    Oh, wow. This book sounds amazing! And your review is wonderful. I must, must, must read this one!

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  6. Heather Gudenkauf
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 11:09:11

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone! Please let me know what you think of it!

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  7. Mystica
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 12:28:53

    Sounds really good.

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  8. Angie S.
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 15:26:13

    I really loved her other novels. I can’t wait for this one!

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  9. Judith
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 17:52:42

    I was thinking: what an awful topic! But your review shows it’s quite well plotted out.

    I’m a bit worried about the “misdirection” – in The Weight of Silence, I felt cheating by the way I was “misdirected” – assuming something from almost the beginning of the book that turned out to be a wrong assumption in the end (but the author had written it in such a way, that my assumption was a logical one to make). I really resented that.

    Is it like that in this book, too?

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    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Jun 23, 2012 @ 13:46:06

      I though the perpetrator made sense when the identity was revealed Judith, on reflection there were hints that I missed so I don’t think you will feel cheated

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  10. Brenda
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 20:50:25

    Wonderful review Shelleyrae! I can’t wait to read this one, as I loved the previous two.

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  11. Tahlia Newland
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 11:19:44

    Did you ever read that Australian novella called Fortress by Gabriel Lord? My daughter studied it in year 10, it’s a very similar theme, except the Aussie one was set in a small outback town. It proved to me that even an awful topic can be a great read if well handled.

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    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Jun 23, 2012 @ 13:44:11

      I haven’t Tahlia though I have read a handful of Lord’s novels, I will have to look for Fortress when I am at the library next

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  12. Stephanie
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 01:20:42

    I liked The Weight of Silence, by the same author, and after reading your review, I want to read this novel too. Adding it to my ever burgeoning TBR list.

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