By Ekta R. Garg
November 10, 2021
Release date: September 21, 2021
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
A former juror in a murder trial finds herself stalked by the murderer after he’s set free. She realizes his motives are personal and races the clock to save others, including those closest to her. Co-writers James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth kick off a new series with surface-level thrills that don’t get full explanations in their newest book The Stowaway.
Maria Fontana is exhausted and ready for a break. After sitting as a juror in one of the most high-profile murder cases in recent history, she thought she would go back to her life and resume her work as the head of the psychology department at Columbia University in New York. Ever since the end of the trial, though, nothing has been normal.
She’s plagued by nightmares of the grisly evidence she had to view for the case, for one thing. The killer, Wyatt Butler, murdered and dismembered children, leaving bizarre calling cards at each crime scene as clues for who he would target next. As a mother herself, Maria shudders when she thinks about the depravity of Butler’s acts.
Also, despite being sequestered with the rest of the jury during the trial, someone leaked their identities. What’s worse, the jury wasn’t unanimous in its vote and ended up acquitting Butler. The victims’ parents have targeted jury members ever since, and Maria’s finding it a challenge just to function in her day-to-day life.
News gets out that Maria stood as the lone vote against convicting Butler, and her life becomes even more of a storm. The university lets her take a sabbatical, and her fiancé suggests a long vacation. Maria agrees for the sake of her twins, Chloe and Christopher, and the four of them head onto a cruise to get away from it all, literally.
Within days of embarking on their vacation, though, disturbing events on the ship bring Maria right back to the days of the trial. Someone is murdering again, this time targeting those on board, and the method of the killings mirrors Butler’s style. Terrified but determined to get some semblance of her life back, Maria teams up with the head of the ship’s security to find the killer. She has an inkling that Butler has followed her, although she doesn’t know why, but she does know that if she doesn’t find him fast, her own kids could be his next victims.
Authors James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth offer readers a fast read, made all the faster by keeping the story mostly on the surface. No deep motivations are provided for Butler’s behavior and fetishes, and many of the action scenes on the ship might make readers wince for how much they feel like a cheesy movie. They also stretch a reader’s suspension of disbelief to the limits.
Maria, too, doesn’t always come across as likeable. At times she’s controlling, and, again, Murray and Wearmouth don’t offer any back story as to why she is that way. Also, while her concern for her children feels real, there isn’t enough interaction shown between her and the kids. Maria goes through a difficult time after the trial, but no mention is made of how that affected Chloe and Christopher. They feel like stand-ins for a cause, something to give Maria reason to hunt down the killer on board the cruise ship. Often the story feels like it’s waiting for its actors to commence their scenes instead of being lived in and grounded in real life.
Nevertheless, the thriller writing duo definitely delivers on the promise of a fast ride with unexpected twists and turns. Red herrings abound, and Butler is creepy enough to satisfy the requirements of any antagonist. Those looking for a quick read in the genre will definitely want to pick this one up. Otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow The Stowaway.