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Publisher:  Warner Books
Release Date: November 11, 2003 
ISBN: 0-446-53139-1 
Format Reviewed: Hardcover 
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Genre: Mystery-Police Procedural 
Reviewed: 2003
Reviewer: Lawrence Greenberg 
Reviewer Notes:  

The Breathtaker
By Alice Blanchard 

     Moving like the wind the title refers to, Alice Blanchard's The Breathtaker is a powerhouse thriller most of the way through. The first three-quarters of the novel have the tremendous momentum of a superior suspense thriller. Set in the tornado-prone wilds of Oklahoma, The Breathtaker presents a unique concept-what if a killer knew exactly when a tornado would strike and took advantage of that to prey on the unguarded residents hard hit by the monster wind?

     Charlie Grover, the protagonist, is the local sheriff of a backwater town who, after a smaller tornado hits his area, comes across the gruesome corpses of a family of three-obviously killed by something other than the tornado itself. Other twisters hit and other corpses are found, in small Tornado Alley towns in Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska. What makes the first three-quarters of this novel so powerful is the building evidence that points towards as many as four different suspects, the peculiar calling card the killer leaves with his victims, and the revelation of multiple evils. Even members of the police force, it seems, are not immune.

     The author is a stylist who knows how to turn a descriptive phrase, but equally knows how to write page-turning prose. Her characters come alive when confronted with hardship-alcoholism, tornado devastation, murder, adultery, and family abuse all figure in the story.

      While the last quarter of the novel is significantly more predictable and formulaic, this does not really damage the overall impact of the tale. Along the way, the reader learns a substantial amount about tornadoes-fascinating stuff-and Charlie even finds a love interest. Optioned for film, The Breathtaker, in spite of the slower going of the last section, is one of the better thrillers this year.