Book Review: North of Nowhere by Allison Brennan
By Janet WebbAugust 18, 2023
The tension in North of Nowhere never lets up: the plot is pure adrenaline. It’s been described as Yellowstone meets Succession. The unpredictability of the winter weather in the Montana wilderness, combined with the power of immense wealth to force outcomes, makes the analogy accurate. North of Nowhere is a standalone, falling into the gothic/thriller/dysfunctional family bucket because of its convoluted and terrifying family dynamics. But let’s not get ahead of the action.
Sixteen-year-old Kristen McIntyre is the heroine. Her younger brother Ryan is deaf: she has a heightened sense of responsibility for him even though they are loved and protected by Tony Reed, their de facto father. One morning, everything changes for Kristen and her brother when Tony triggers an escape plan that has been long in the making. His preternatural awareness of danger is no accident: “Tony Reed was alive today because he always listened to his gut.” On his daily predawn reconnoiter, Tony spots two strangers “lurking on the road leading to Triple Pine Ranch, where Tony had worked since settling in Big Sky.” Their semi-hidden vehicle has California plates. Kristen and Ryan’s father, Boyd McIntyre, head of a Los Angeles crime syndicate, has discovered where his children have been living for the last five years and he’s hard on their heels.
He woke Kristen at five-thirty, as soon as he returned from his morning recon. She sat bolt upright, her hand reaching for her nightstand where he’d taught her to store her weapon. His chest tightened. He’d trained his sixteen-year-old daughter to be a fighter.
She’s not your daughter.
“Plan B, baby,” he said.
She stared at him, fully awake, fists clenched. What kid woke up alert and ready to fight?
She didn’t ask questions, she didn’t argue. Five years in hiding, and she still knew that hesitation could mean death. Or worse.
Silently, Kris swung her feet over the bed and slipped on her sturdiest boots. She slept in sweats and a tank top, even in the cold; she pulled on a thermal shirt then a school sweatshirt. She played soccer for her high school, the Bobcats. Green and gold, like her eyes.
Just like her aunt Ruby.
Just like her murderous father.
Their Plan B is to flee to “a remote cabin no one knew about, more than three hundred miles from Big Sky, with enough food and water to last them all winter if necessary, until they could disappear again.” Tony’s heart is telling him to stay and fight—that’s all he wants to do but five years ago, when Maggie, the kids’ mother was murdered, he vowed he wouldn’t kill again. He rescued the children from the corrupt McIntyre family and disappeared with them.
They leave their house on horseback and go to the ranch where Tony “borrows” his boss’s plane. Boyd’s henchmen pepper the plane with gunfire, piercing the fuel line, forcing Tony to make an abrupt and dangerous water landing. Tony doesn’t make it: brother and sister are on their own, “searching desperately for safety—unaware of the severity of the approaching storm.”
Is this an opportunity for them to escape the McIntyre family again or a disaster? Will their years of wilderness training and planning pay off? By the way, the woods are getting crowded. There are bad guys, led by Boyd and his local expert tracker, good guys, rancher Nick Lorenzo and his son Jason, and folks who are somewhere in the middle, like Ruby McIntyre (at least in Kristen’s estimation). She once loved Ruby dearly but then Ruby abandoned them. Ruby did leave Los Angeles to join the Army, but she left so the children would be safe. She didn’t want her horrific mother and corrupt brother to find Kristen and Ryan through her, so she cut off all contact.
“When she gets an emergency call that the plane has gone down with the kids inside, she drops everything to try to save them.”
Before Plan B, Kris and Ryan spent a lot of their free time at the Triple Pine Ranch where Tony worked. Kristen and Jason Lorenzo are close friends, perhaps someday hoping to be more than friends. Nick and Jason don’t know why Kristen and Ryan are on the run—their goal is simply to find two young people they know who are likely lost in the wilderness. The police get involved. Allison Brennan also introduces a malevolent red herring into the mix. Who can Kristen trust? A massive winter blizzard is descending on the woods: can she keep herself and her brother alive?
North of Nowhere is intense, believable, and straightforward. It’s violent and scary but underlying the desperate quest of Kristen and Ryan to stay alive and reach safe harbor is their love for each other. They come to realize that even after Tony’s death, there are other good, honorable adults in their world, people who love them and want them to live, thrive, smile, and laugh. Will it happen? There are massive hurdles, including a family member who would rather torture and even kill rather than let anyone in her family live a life of their own. I defy readers not to put their money on Kristen McIntyre—she is forged in steel, and she has smarts and grit in abundance.