First line: "On the last day of Jace Wilson's life, the thirteen-year-old stood on a quarry ledge staring at cool, still water and finally understood something his mother had told him years before: Trouble might come for you when you showed fear, but trouble doubled-down when you lied about it."
For Michael Kortya's tenth novel, he takes to the mountains of Montana with Ethan Serbin, a wilderness survival instructor. Ethan and his wife, Allison have made their home in these mountains. Each summer Ethan takes on a small group of at-risk boys for his survival camp, but this year there's a special challenge.
Jace Wilson is a young boy who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time; he witnessed a gruesome murder and now the killers are after him. In an attempted to keep the young boy safe, he's being placed in witness protection under a new identity. Jamie Bennett, a former US Marshall and present private contractor, wants Ethan to accept Jace into the summer camp under his new identity. She doesn't believe she can keep him safe and thinks hiding in the mountains is the best option. The catch, however, is Ethan and Allison cannot know which boy in the group is Jace.
Ethan accepts Jace, but when the killers find their way to the mountains, Montana will never be the same.
Further exploring his obvious love and respect of nature, Kortya brings the beauty of Montana and the rage of the environment alive in this red-hot adventure, giving the setting it's own character role. By mixing the conflict of man (the killers) with the conflict of nature (a raging forest fire), he's able to elevate his plot with a rich, heart-pounding complexity that is dependent on this setting.
A sub-plot weaves its way into the novel through Hannah Faber, a fire-fighter trying to escape her haunting past in a secluded lookout tower. While Faber could likely have been a whole story in herself, she simultaneously helps make Jace's escape attempt believable and flushes out his character, a terrified child.
Koryta's villains--brothers--are as fascinating a duo as his protagonist. As Allison describes them, "They speak strangely...not accents but just they way they talk. Like they're alone in the world. Like it was built here for the two of them and they're the lords over it." Their lack of empathy is chilling but their bond to each other is so strong it's almost visible.
I did find myself wondering why Ethan and Allison were informed about Jace's presence at all or if they were to be informed why they were then kept in the dark about his exact identity, but that question was quickly lost in the intensity of the story.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is further evidence of Koryta's versatility and strength as a writer. While elements, like nature, are becoming trademark in his work, he's consistently raising the bar in his character development, plot construction, pacing and suspense. Much like the fire that rages through the Montana mountains of this novel, Koryta is blazing a trail that doesn't stay safely on one straight path. Where he'll go next is a mystery, but one as exciting as the stories he tells.
Those Who Wish Me Dead is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780316122559) from Little, Brown and as a downloadable, unabridged audiobook narrated by Robert Petkoff from Hachette Audio.