Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Passenger » Review

"Hide-and-seek may just be a game, but it's a game you ought to know how to play."

[redacted][redacted] says these words to one of her third grade students.  It's a typical lesson from Miss [redacted].  She is an odd teacher — obsessed with teaching the kids about road maps.  "Let's say you're in Olympia, Washington, and you want to drive to Boise, Idaho.  How would you get there?" She has them read From the Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler for English Studies, because it's the only book she liked as a kid.  She is renown in their small town for diving into a freezing lake to save a drowning child.  But Miss [redacted] has only been in town for a few months... and she'll be off again.  Soon.

Her name is not [redacted][redacted].  Nor is it Tanya Dubois.  At some point in time she's answered to those names and more — but her real one?  Some things are best left forgotten.

When The Passenger begins, we don't know why our protagonist is running, just that she must again, after her husband suffers the accidental death of falling down the stairs.  "Tanya" says goodbye to her lover and hits the road, navigating fake IDs, bank account transfers, and car swapping with practiced disease.  We get the sense that this is a game "Tanya" is familiar with, but has never really warmed to.  She's like a hunted animal, jumping at every twitch of a shadow in a truck-stop diner.

Tanya is knocked out of her uncomfortable, if familiar, orbit, however, by a mysterious woman named Blue, who has smarts and skills on par to rival the law-eluding Tanya. For a while I thought The Passenger was going to become a Thelma and Louise-esque caper.  Or worse, something akin to the maudlin sentimentality of Where the Heart Is.  Then something happened that tore that theory apart.  And then Lisa Lutz ripped my assumption up into a few more pieces.

You have to give the author credit.  I had no idea which way the story would twist and turn.  At its worst, I call this an "aimless plot."  At its best it is a "sketch-oriented novel." Our heroine wandered from place to place, identity to identity, with only slight, slight plot development with each go around.  This was either a very brave or very foolish decision for a thriller.

After a certain point though, a very certain point, I had to keep reading.  I'm so glad I did, because our ending was worth the winding road it took to get there.  Granted, the tying together of all our loose threads was quite abrupt, but the manner in which it was presented to us fit with our heroine's character arc.  I've had enough. I'm through.  Let me tell you everything now.  

Compared with her previous works, The Passenger is a marked departure in tone for Lutz.  There are no big laughs in this book — the mood is more somber.  We've gotten glimpses at this side of Lutz's writing before, especially when Izzy is at her low-point in each Spellman book, but we've never seen such consistent low moods before. It's an interesting move — the sign of an author who likes to switch things up for herself. What Lutz keeps and passes on from her previous work, however,  is her sophisticated writing ability, her gritty real-world detail, and her in-crisis characters.

I recommend The Passenger now, having ended it, with confidence.  At the beginning of the book, midway, even three quarters through, I would have hesitated.  This is very much a book that all comes together at its endgame.  I can only hope readers stick with the ride to its end.  The destination is worth the journey.


  1. The best kind of mysteries are the secretive, unpredictable ones. This is new to me! Thanks for heads up. :)

  2. Absolutely! Have you read any of the Spellman Files books before?

  3. Glad it all came together in the end and you really enjoyed it.

  4. I was just on your old site's page and the picture of Cruella made me laugh ahah, I can't believe I hadn't found you before! Love this review so I'm excited to see more :)

  5. I know! I was relieved that all the loose ends formed a knot at last!

  6. Thank you! And yeah, the Cruella gif definitely encapsulated the moving process. Lol!