Layover is Pulp Fiction. In a Good Way.

Layover (2019)
By David Bell
Berkley/Penguin Press, 416 pages.

If you enjoy psychological thriller movies that make you bolt upright and shout, "Oh no! Do not open that door!!!" David Bell's novel Layover is like that. No matter what the medium–movies, novels, campfire tales, TV shows–such works rely upon building tension to a level where you are fully immersed in the moment. Alfred Hitchcock famously remarked, "Logic is dull." He meant this in the sense that effective melodrama goes for the gut, not the brain's logic center.

Or is it the heart? Or the gonads? Joshua Fields is pretty much the poster child for the well-scrubbed All American lad. He's considerate, altruistic, clean-cut, attractive, smart, and successful. That's not to say he doesn't have his crosses to bear. He was raised by a doting father and went into pop's real far-flung estate and development business right out of college. Joshua is making lots of money, but he's never really stretched his own wings. His job is dull, but he soldiers on because he doesn't want to disappoint his father. This takes its toll, as Joshua is a nervous flyer who needs Xanax and airport booze to get onto an airplane. He also has a longtime girlfriend, but the fire of that relationship is (at best) on smolder.

One evening he's in Atlanta waiting to change planes–the titular layover–when he meets Morgan Reynolds, an attractive young woman in her twenties. The two have a drink  and part ways, but not before Morgan surprises Joshua with a body-grinding kiss that practically makes him jump out of his khakis. On impulse, Joshua decides not to meet his dad in Florida and instead finagles his way onto a flight to Nashville, which is where Morgan said she was bound. Yet when he surprises her on the airplane, the same woman claims she is not Morgan Reynolds, rings the flight attendant, and asks her to make Joshua stop harassing her.  

Bummer! But when Joshua looks up her profile on Facebook–hey it's the 21st century!–there she is, along with various postings that say she's missing. Joshua tries to explain this to airport police in Nashville, who basically say she's an adult and has the right to go missing if she wishes. A rational person would move on, right? Well, that wouldn't make for much of a novel, would it? Instead, Joshua decides to investigate on his own.

Meanwhile, in (fictional) Laurel Falls, Kentucky, Detective Kimberly Givens is under pressure to locate a missing local businessman, Giles Caldwell. The mayor is up for reelection, Giles' aggressive brother Simon is raising a stink, and the mayor has pretty much ordered Givens–who was already passed over for promotion once before–to work around the clock to find Giles. That's hard to do if you're divorced and have a (barely) teenaged daughter.

The two stories will, of course, intersect. At each step of the way Joshua is warned to go back home and leave the investigation to professionals. Instead, he continues to open doors he shouldn't, even when each new one brings him more grief and places him in greater danger.

Objectively speaking, Layover is pulp fiction that frequently demands that readers suspend disbelief. Who knows? The news is filled with tales of those who have done more illogical things than Joshua, so maybe there's more verisimilitude to Bell's novel than we'd like to admit. I can say, though, that Joshua wiggles out of a few legal situations from which he'd be unlikely to walk away in real life. This is a 416-page book that feels like it's barely half that long. In otherwise, this is your proverbial page-turner. It releases in July, and I can imagine it will be a popular beach read.

David Bell is an English professor at Western Kentucky University with eight previous novels to his credit. Layover is no Woman in White. It's not even Gone Girl. But let's give Bell credit for writing a novel with great mass appeal. Sometimes all a reader wants is good juicy thriller.

Rob Weir  

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from Berkeley and NetGalley to review. I note, however, that it seems to be available on Kindle.

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