Fresh Meat: No Way Back by Andrew Gross

No Way Back by Andrew Gross is a thriller that starts when an innocent woman meets a handsome stranger (available April 2, 2013).

I’ve always thought if I ever cheated on my husband, I’d blurt out what I’d done as soon as I got home. In No Way Back, not only does poor Wendy Gould have to admit to an unsuccessful indiscretion, she had to tell her husband she’d murdered a man. See, ladies, cheating is never a good idea.

Andrew Gross makes the story that begins with a suburban wife’s chance encounter with a handsome man into a horrific, life-changing experience. This is one of those books that propels you forward from a seemingly innocent incident to pure chaos. The way Gross unravels it keeps you guessing until resolution comes.

From the time I came to know her, I liked Wendy Gould. Sitting at a New York City bar waiting for a friend to listen to her vent about her husband, she is frustrated and depressed. Most of us have been there. Is there any greater support system than the friend who will let you be honest about your husband? This is the one person who knows all your secrets and never tells anyone the sometimes nasty things you say about those you love.

When Wendy’s friend doesn’t show she notices a handsome man watching her from the bar. The attention is scary but flattering, and he comes to her table. He surprises her further by performing on the bar’s piano, and it becomes apparent he’s well-known and many of the other bar patrons are there to hear him play. He’s younger, sexy, and talented. Wendy is enchanted.

I had no trouble believing Wendy was attracted enough to this man to go to his room. She was feeling blue after a quarrel with her husband. She loved him, no doubt, but everybody experiences those lulls in marriage when tempers are on edge and questions about the future arise. And I’m sure most of us could identify with her when she goes upstairs and is unable to follow through with the culmination of the desire she’d felt. She thinks of her husband and their children, and realizes this one act will wreak havoc on everything she loves.

While taking a moment to compose herself in the bathroom, Wendy hears someone else enter the room and to her horror witnesses the murder of the young man. When the murderer turns on her, Wendy’s training as a former cop takes over, and she shoots the killer. Panic sets in when she finds his ID and makes another discovery.

Anyone would see it was clearly self-defense.

But then the reality of where I was swelled up inside me.

No. I couldn’t do that at all! Call the police. That was the last thing I could do! I was in the hotel room of a complete stranger. A place I absolutely shouldn’t have been. How would I possibly explain that? Not just to the police, even if I could convince them of what had happened.

But to my husband. To Dave. To our kids!

That I was up here to have sex with a guy I’d just met at the bar when the whole thing happened.

My whole life would be torn apart.

My eyes fell on the intruder. Who are you? Why were you following Curtis? What were you up here to do? Leaning over him, I saw he had an earphone in his ear. Which suddenly unnerved me ever more, realizing that there was likely an accomplice somewhere. Probably in the hotel at the moment!

Possibly even right outside.

If he had any idea what had just happened in here…

Terrified, I took the earphone out and held it to my ear. I heard a voice on the other end.

Ray? Ray, what’s going on up there? Answer me, Ray, are you all right?”

His jacket had fallen open, and I saw an ID folder in the breast pocket. I started thinking. What if he was security? Or maybe even the police? What then? What the hell have you done, Wendy?

I was suddenly encased in sweat.

I opened the ID folder and stared. And whatever panic or fear I had felt up to that moment became just another dry run for what was rippling through me now.

I was staring at a badge. But not from hotel security.

It read, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.

Wendy heads for home, terrified she’s being followed and instead of admitting a small indiscretion, she blurts out to her husband that she has murdered someone. This is just the beginning, though, and we leave poor Wendy on the run from agents of her own government when we meet Lauritzia Velez.

A nanny for a wealthy Connecticut family, Lauritzia is beloved and appreciated. When she saves the children during a shooting spree at a local mall, the Bachman family learns of Lauritzia’s dark secret. Though she’s slightly wounded in the shootout, Lauritzia runs home with the children terrified because she recognized the hideous tattoos on the men who were shooting in the mall. This wasn’t a random shooting by a madman; the men were there to kill her, just as they had her mother and her brothers and sisters.  La cuota. Terrified for the American family she loves, Lauritzia packs to run too.

Two mornings later she made breakfast for the kids, as she did most every weekday. She had waited for them to feel fit and ready to go back to school. Mrs. B had met with the principal the day before and decided it was okay for them to return. The two were strangely quiet and withdrawn on their ride there, as if they somehow suspected something. Maybe they were just nervous to face the many questions about what had happened and have to recount their frightening tale. Maybe it was something deeper—the violence always did that to children. Why would they understand? As she drove up to the school and they were about to run out, Lauritzia reached over and held them.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “I want a hug. An extra-special hug this morning. For friends forever.”

They looked at her as if it seemed a bit peculiar.

“I think I’ve earned it,” Lauritzia said, flashing them her happiest smile, trying not to show her sadness, which was killing her inside.

“Okay,” Jamie mumbled, and tilted his head against her arm. Taylor gave her a real hug, which Lauritzia put her whole soul into in return.

“I’ll see you soon,” she called after them. Then quietly to herself: “Quiza un dia.”

Perhaps one day soon.

Back at the house, she hastily packed her belongings into her bags. Her clothes, many of them the fine things Mrs. B had given her. The pictures she had kept of her family. And ones with her new family too. A wooden carving of Santa Bessette that her sister Maria had given her, which now meant more to her than anything in the world. Sadly, Lauritzia put her textbooks aside on the night table.

She would not need them anymore.

When she was done, she dragged her bags out to the foyer and called for a taxi. Roxanne was at exercise class, and that gave her about half an hour. She sat at the kitchen island and tried to put her thoughts down in a note. To all of them. She told them how much she loved  them all and how they were like family to her now, her only family, and always would be. But that she had to go back home.

Now we have two desperate women on the run with very little hope for their futures. The stories of these two women seem unrelated and are somewhat confusing at first, but once Gross starts putting puzzle pieces in the right places, it becomes obvious how they’re linked and it’s a fascinating ride to the end.

I really enjoyed this book and found myself in its grip when I should have been doing other, more important things. That just didn’t matter. I had to find out what happened.

I came to know Andrew Gross through the novels he wrote with James Patterson. The stories of The Women’s Murder Club are still among my favorites. Gross has moved on to write solo now and his stories are entertaining and very suspenseful—a great combination.

Be prepared to get lost in the maze that is No Way Back because you will want to keep reading even when you shouldn’t. The only thing wrong with a book like this is that it ends.

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Find more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.


Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who now writes fiction full-time. She and her writing partner, Jan Powell, are anticipating the release of their novel, Second Nature by Neely Powell, in late spring. She also writes for the popular blogs, womenofmystery.net and for neelypowell.wordpress.com. Her short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn” is in the anthology Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices.

Read all posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.

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