Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross is a fasten your seat belt, hold on to your hat, put on a helmet, even, and don't forget to breathe fast-paced, complex, thrilling thriller, which I won as a Goodreads first read.
The book starts with a mysterious prologue that becomes clear as the story progresses. The first line of the first chapter hooked me right away: "I read somewhere that every life is the story of a single mistake, and then what happens after." A book that starts with a teaser like this is either going to be very good or very bad. This book is extremely good. This line, spoken by Hilary Cantor, divorced mother of a seven-year old son who walks on the precarious line between autism and Asperger's Syndrome, sets the stage for a very wild ride. "One wrong decision can't be taken back," she says, "And thinking back on that night, on the backcountry road between Westchester County in New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, my own life starting to come down around me like the intensifying drizzle that glared through the oncoming headlights, I could look back where I had run headfirst into mine."
Hilary is driving this back road, a route she normally doesn't travel, to confront her ex-husband about his failure to pay child support (their son, Brandon, goes to a very expensive school that is able to meet his needs and has turned him into a child far more connected than he was before attending). She rounds a bend and sees a car ahead of her swerve to avoid hitting a deer. This car spins, the back end drifts off the shoulder, and plunges over the embankment. Thinking perhaps she can help, Hilary goes down the hill and finds the car a total wreck, with the driver dead. And, there is a bag containing $500,000 on the front seat. Hilary's sense of moral values leaves her as she realizes this could be the answer to her prayers, and, without much thought, she hurls the bag into the woods, and comes back later and takes it. This is the backbone of the story. To say more would reveal what you need to discover, indeed, experience, by yourself.
The story is narrated by several characters with different, but connecting and connected, roles in the story. The shifting narration and complex tale require careful attention or you will lose track of the story. What appear to be unrelated stories and incidents become clearly connected, the mysterious prologue begins to make sense, and the end reveals what the prologue describes. Everything to Lose is a tale of suspense, danger, murder, the Ukrainian Mob, kidnapping, graft, love and loss, and Hurricane Sandy all wrapped up in a cohesive, slowly, dangerously, unraveling tale. Will Hilary keep the $500,000 and will it solve all her problems? It is not giving anything away to say of course she does and of course it doesn't. How that evolves is what grabs the reader. Gross is a stunning writer who adeptly builds suspense, typing what appear to be loose ends and unrelated events into a cohesive, tightly woven tale.
I could not put this book down and I read it in a day and a half. All of the trite cliches - blockbuster, roller coaster ride, breathtaking - apply, but for this book, they are not cliches but accurate descriptions. It is a brilliant, compulsively page-turning descent into hell and back. The story unfolds like a symphony, starting with relatively calmly, then builds to a thundering conclusion. The sensation of reading Everything to Lose is akin to listening to Ravel's "Bolero" - there is a simple theme throughout the piece, a rising pace and more and more complex variations on the theme, and an elaborate crescendo at the end. It is simply marvelous