Publisher: Tanglewood Publishing
Number of Pages: 420
Published: May 8th, 2018
Source: Rebecca Grose from SoCal Public Relations and the Author in exchange for an honest review.
Opening Line: "Twenty-five minutes from now a plane will crash."
Surface Tension alternates between the first-person narratives of Betsy and Jake. A style of writing that really puts you in the head of these two characters and makes them very memorable. Jake is an avid cyclist who on one of his training rides inadvertently witnesses a large group of tanker trucks releasing a chemical that is so horrific it leaves him bent over hurling, causing him to wreck his bike, and renders him unconscious. When Jake regains consciousness, he's inside one of the trucks where he overhears people discussing their plans for dealing with his body. Left with no other option, Jake decides to throw himself from the truck to escape. Sometime later, Jake awakens in a hospital room having lost all his memories. He has no recollection of the attack that he witnessed at the airport, and in addition to a headache and nausea, he can't remember his girlfriend or even his own mother.
Betsy is the teenage girl who's not only looking for her father's approval but also wants to be admitted into his organization, the Sons of Paine, a white nationalist group that has been disguising themselves as terrorists. On the day the airplane crashed, Betsy was at the airport on one of her missions for her father, and later she is tasked with killing Jake at the hospital. Betsy's character is slowly revealed through her relationship with her father, through her training with the Sons of Paine, online communications with a forum group of white nationalists and her current plans for the future. At first, she seems to embrace her father's ideologies, but when she finds out that he hasn't been truthful about why her mother left and becomes abusive toward her, Betsy begins to have doubts and fears what he will do to her if she can't complete her mission.
The story definitely becomes more complicated when Jake is attacked at the hospital by Betsy, pretending to be his girlfriend, and everyone chalks up the attempt on his life as just a side effect of his head injury, a hallucination. At first Jake thinks the police, doctors, and his mom are right, but once his actual girlfriend shows up for a visit, he begins to realize that someone really is out to kill him. I really liked Laurissa, Jake's girlfriend, she is one tough cookie. She's the only one who really tries to help Jake piece together what he saw and who the mysterious girl was at the hospital.
I really felt Mullin accurately portrayed the challenges of recovering from a traumatic brain injury, as well as some of the difficulties that can arise. The spotty memory, physical and balance issues, even how reading is slower to return. Jake's memories and recall of events were occasionally difficult for me to follow, he shifted in and out of them, so I wasn't always clear about whether he was speaking about the present or past. You also have to be willing to suspend belief over some of the feats and challenges that he endures while evading the killers when they're sent back to finish him off and once the FBI becomes involved in the case. However, you can tell Mullin did his research to make sure his descriptions were accurate.
Now, Betsy, she's a girl that I would've liked to understand better. She seems to have become radicalized by her father, but her reasons for not completing her mission, to kill Jake at the hospital aren't completely explained. She tries to do it but then stops part way. Why did she change her mind? She does explain why she wants another chance, even tries to make a second attempt, but again can't go through with it. While I appreciate that it wasn't because she suddenly had feelings for Jake, the shift feels a bit unresolved. It also makes them teaming up later in the story seem less believable. Despite needing a few more answers, which will hopefully come from another book in the series, Surface Tension does have all the things that you would expect in an action story. The intrigue about who's the good and bad guys. How Jake and Laurissa will be able to save themselves and how the trio can stop another planned attack. The stakes are pretty high and things end in a way that will have you hoping for more, but it's a fun ride if you can handle the tense moments.