Packs an Honest Emotional Wallop

Descent: A Novel
By Tim Johnston

Tim Johnston has skillfully merged the deeply rich personal story and the organically arrived at emotion you find in a good literary novel with the twists and heart beating turns of a thriller to create quite a reading experience. So close will you feel to the family, particularly to the father, Grant, and the son, Sean, as well a fully fleshed supporting cast, especially the irritating and surprising Billy, son of the sheriff, that you will find the emotion derived from living and caring for these people welling up in you as the conclusion approaches.

In short, Grant and Angela Courtland’s marriage contains as many jagged divides as the Rocky Mountains they vacation in before sending their daughter Caitlin away to college. Caitlin’s an accomplished 18-year-old, a star runner who will attend school on a scholarship. Her chubby and nerdy younger brother, Sean, is the opposite, but they have a close relationship. One morning, she sets out for a run in the mountains with Sean trying to keep up on a rented bike. They discover a small shrine, rest there, and set out again. It’s then that a vehicle roars down on them, hitting and seriously injuring Sean. Without cellphone reception and no other way to summon help for Sean, Caitlin reluctantly leaves with the man down the mountain, not to be seen again. All this related in a brief prelude.

The novel deals with fortitude and love, as well as the agony of losing a child, losing her without any closure. Johnston does a superb job, and in doing so elevates the novel thousands of feet above the typical thriller, relating the family’s sorrow, guilt, love, and, in the case of Grant, the doggedness of never giving up hope when none seems to exist and others are moving on. In Grant Courtland, Johnston has created a fully human man, admirable and likable most of the time, but also flawed and off-putting on occasion. He’s the man you would want yourself to be in a tough situation involving a missing daughter, a near suicidal wife, and a son who allows his personal guilt of not aiding his sister, even though he was in no condition to do so, to almost destroy his life before it begins.

Caitlin, too, proves to be like her father, strong and resolute, never surrendering to complete and paralyzing despair in her captivity. And when the time comes, she rises to the moment, as her father no doubt would have, and does what she must, and make a sacrifice that few of us could contemplate. Johnston uses Caitlin and her captivity to drive forward the thriller aspect of the novel.

Of its type, Descent truly is an achievement of how to mesh two genres to create a powerful novel.

If you like Descent, you also might take to the British television show The Missing. It concerns a husband and wife and intrepid French detective searching for the couple’s missing boy, a search that consumes them for years. You’ll find the ending absolutely astounding, in a good way, and discover that even with closure, for some there really never can be true acceptance. Not to be missed.  c/w

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