Maximum Exposure by Allison Brennan is the prequel novella to the Maxine Revere series, which introduces the tough-as-nails investigative reporter.
Maxine Revere doesn’t approach the cases she writes about lightly. Still suffering from the unsolved disappearance and probable death of her college roommate, how could she? So when Adele Sheldon, the mother of missing college student Scott Sheldon, calls Max for help, Max agrees. Using her own money, Max flies out to Colorado Springs, Colorado (my hometown!), and jumps into the investigation—if it can even be called an investigation—of Scott’s disappearance.
Six months earlier, Scott had gone camping with three friends. According to the three young men, Scott had gotten angry about something and wandered off. They were vague about the argument, and they didn’t report Scott missing until returning to their college a couple of days later. During that time, a large winter storm had blown in. When Max arrives, Scott has been missing six months. She suspects Scott is dead. Still, she very much wants to bring closure to Scott’s family.
This prequel to the Max Revere series, Maximum Exposure, is a fast-paced novella that focuses largely on why Maxine Revere does what she does. Max isn’t a cop. She isn’t a lawyer or a judge. She’s a reporter—she investigates and reports back what she finds. Exposing the truth is its own form of justice.
When the novella opens, Max is heading out to Colorado. But before she catches her flight, Ben Lawson, her missing roommate’s ex-boyfriend and now television producer, has a business proposal for her. He wants Max to be the center of a new crime news show. But Max doesn’t want to answer to producers—she wants to pursue stories closer to her heart.
Like Scott Sheldon and his family in Colorado.
She leaves Ben hanging and heads out to hunt the truth, which is tricky because the three college boys Scott went camping with refuse to speak to her, the police don’t have any information to go on, and Scott’s body—if he is, indeed, dead—hasn’t been found. Max’s best lead is Jess, a young coed Scott may or may not have had a romantic interest in.
“Jess, search and rescue did everything they could with the information they had. And, like you, I don’t think Scott survived.”
The girl stopped walking. Her cheeks were bright from the cold. “I didn’t say that.”
“Let’s look at the possibilities: One, Scott ran away, voluntarily disappearing. There’s no evidence to support that. Two, Scott stomped off in anger like his friends said, and has built a shelter and survived for six months. Or three, Scott died on that mountain before anyone started looking for him.”
Jess frowned but didn’t say anything. Max continued. “There’s no evidence that Scott ran away or that he survived. I’m pretty certain he’s dead, and so is search and rescue. Even his mother, and parents are the most likely to believe that their child found some way to survive the unsurvivable. But I think there’s more to what happened that weekend that what your friends told police.”
“Tom Keller, Carlos Ibarra, and Arthur Cowan.”
“They’re not my friends.”
Every time she turns around, though, Max runs up against liars. Threatening liars. Art, Tom, and Carlos—Scott’s mountain companions—are not cooperative, to say the least. However, Max is not one to be intimidated.
She looked at the boys in turn. Tom stared at his feet, Carlos stared at Art, and Art stared at her.
She continued, “When Scott didn’t return Saturday morning, you went back to the truck and didn’t find him there. But instead of looking for him, or notifying the rangers’ station, you left. In fact, you didn’t notify anyone that Scott was missing until Sunday.”
“There was a storm,” Tom began. “We—”
“Shut up,” Art said, sneering at Tom. “Don’t talk to her.” He stepped toward Max. “Get out.”
If he thought he was intimidating, he was wrong. Max had gone up against far more intimidating men—and women—than Arthur Cowan.
“The storm didn’t really turn bad until Saturday afternoon. You could have called the ranger’s station, told them Scott was missing, they would have gone up there and looked for him until dark. Yet you waited until Sunday morning to inform campus security.” She eyed the boys carefully: Art, red with anger; Carlos, still focused on Art, concerned; Tom, pale and twitchy. “After that, it’s campus security who’s at fault for not contacting the rangers until late on Sunday.”
“It’s not our fault he left,” Tom said.
“Shut the fuck up, Tom!”
Art took a step toward her. She wasn’t scared of the kid, but he was certainly hot under the collar. “Get out of my room. Now.”
“Your reaction tells me you’re a liar, Arthur. I will prove it.”
He pushed her. She took a step back, raised an eyebrow. “Touch me again, and I will put you down, little man.”
Because the novella is so fast-paced and quick, I can’t give away much more except to say that Maxine Revere is forced to reconcile what she can and cannot do as a freelance reporter. What can anyone without lawful authority do? How can justice be served? Can it? The need for answers to these questions are what drive Max in her later stories as well—and are central to what we, as crime readers, look for as we turn the pages.
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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.
Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.