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The Passengers
BY John Marrs

Berkley Press
August 27, 2019/ ISBN 9781984806970
Thriller

Reviewed by  Elise Cooper

The Passengers by John Marrs is a pulse-pounding read. This riveting story delves into the potentially destructive nature of technology and how social media contributes to a mob mentality, where people determine who will live and who will die.

Imagine a world where there are only driverless cars The rationale is that there will be less accidents, less deaths, and more safety. This is exactly what takes place in England because of a government regulation banning all driver controlled cars. Although car death tolls have gone down, they still happen. Mandated is a jury to decide who's at fault for the deaths. One such Vehicle Inquest has a jury made up of a government agent, clergy, and medical professionals that includes Libby Dixon, a mental health nurse. She is distrustful of driverless cars after watching a terrible accident a few years ago, which wiped out a family. As the jury was deliberating, a camera shows how eight passengers of these cars, all from different walks of life, have lost all control. Everyone watches in horror as the doors are locked, and the passengers are told they are going to die in 2.5 hours. The terrorist who's taken control by hacking intends to crash the cars into one another at full speed. One passenger will be spared after each is allowed to plead their case. Each juror gets a vote, as well as all those participating on social media. Yet, at the end of their pleas, the hacker comes on at the end of the ten-minute allotted period and reveals each hostage’s dark secret, allowing no one an opportunity to explain or clarify their motives.

“Purely from my imagination is having the UK government ban driver cars. Although the five different levels of cars are based on reality. I know there have been rumors of cars being hacked. It is really frightening that it could happen. In my story, it is based on so many things able to be hacked. Why not have these types of cars hacked considering there will be a huge network of cars able to talk to each other.”

What makes this story so scary is its plausibility. Almost all technology is hackable, and social media has become an albatross around one’s neck. As with TV shows like “American Idol,” the social media audience will vote someone’s fate. But this time, it is a life and death issue where the passenger’s life literally hangs in the balance as social media makes judgments, and decides who will live or die based on thin and omitted facts. The entire world watches and votes on social media using hashtags, able to observe the visual feed as the events transpire.

“As I was writing, I thought of those on social media can get caught up with mob mentality. I love and hate social media. Although it is a valuable tool for myself personally, it has its drawbacks. In this story, I went for the horribleness of it. People allow themselves to get manipulated. They will take what they read or hear at face value. I hope as time goes on, people will wise up. Remember, years and years ago, with the start of Tabloid newspapers, everyone believed everything they read. Over time, it has become a bit of a joke. I think that can happen with social media where people will become more educated and start to doubt. I wanted to give those on social media a part of the story and see where they would go if they found out about a negative side of someone. They never think of the reasoning behind this behavior and what led to it. For some of the passengers, they are not as bad as first appeared, and for others, they are worse than first appeared.”

Not only is this story thrilling, but it is so very believable. Readers will be terrified, frightened, and unsettled as they experience the horror along with the passengers and jurors. To add to the intensity is the twist at the end that has a surprising conclusion.

Reviewed 2019
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