Relying on the hackneyed phrase, “You can run, but you can’t hide,” to propel the plot of a thriller is fairly common.
Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Trilogy leans heavily on the idea, as do the Halloween movies: The good guy is running from the bad guy, and no matter where the good guy may hide, the bad guy finds him.
That is the idea behind Karen Cleveland’s latest novel “You Can Run.”
The book opens at precisely 10:59 a.m. CIA reports officer Jill Bailey sits at her desk, when a cable arrives, requesting the vetting of Syrian operative Falcon as the agency’s newest source on biowarfare in the Mideast.
At one time, Jill would have responded immediately.
She’s a long-time employee and knows how valuable Falcon’s knowledge could prove to CIA’s intelligence gathering.
However, three months ago, Jill gave birth to Owen, who is in day care and whom Jill expects to feed at exactly 11 a.m.
So instead of vetting Falcon immediately, Jill shuts down her computer and heads to her car, where she receives a phone call. A robotic voice announces, “We have your son.”
To get Owen back, Jill has to approve Falcon as a CIA source and not tell anyone what she’s done. Ever.
If she does that, she will get Owen back, but if she doesn’t… The voice assures her “they” will know, and they will kill Owen.
Jill does as the voice instructs her. Owen is returned, and Jill quits her job the next day, never telling her husband Drew why.
She convinces Drew to move to Florida. Flash forward four years.
Jill has still not told Drew about Owen’s kidnapping. She feels safe in Florida.
She and Drew have added a daughter to the family, and her days are busy.
She’s taken up painting and teaches languages at a local community college.
However, one day at the grocery store, Jill notices a woman staring intently at her and the kids.
This woman is Alex Charles, a reporter for The Washington Post. Responding to a tip, Alex has tracked Jill down to find out more about Falcon.
Initially suspicious and fearful of Alex, eventually Jill comes to trust her as the two work together to discover who Falcon is.
When I started “You Can Run,” I wondered if the book would hold my interest. I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers for years and am familiar with quite a few plot twists.
I wondered if Cleveland could add anything new to the genre. Turns out the answer to that question is “yes.”
Jill’s position with the CIA adds an element of espionage, which I enjoyed and which I don’t see often in most thrillers.
In addition, the espionage being entwined with a mother’s terror over the kidnapping of her son made the book emotionally satisfying.
I recommend “You Can Run.” Cleveland is a good storyteller.
Her plotting is tight, and her characters are developed enough to keep you engaged.
As an aside, Cleveland is a former CIA analyst, which adds to the book’s veracity.
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. Currently, she’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)