This advance review of Low Pressure, by Sandra Brown (Grand Central Publishing) first appeared July 31, 2012 on this site. Low Pressure is now for sale in bookstores.
Sandra Brown has had a place in my heart and on my bookshelf for years. I never miss the chance to read one of her novels, and her newest, Low Pressure, is as good as any she has written.
Why do I like her so much? For one thing, her plotting is intricate. For another, she has the uncanny knack of making you care about the characters in her novels: not quite sure how she does it, but she pulls it off. Thirdly she is a writer of both mystery and suspense (two different things); and fourthly, she knows how to effectively use sexual tension to keep the reader wondering when, where, and in how many different positions.
In Low Pressure we meet Bellamy Lyston Price, an heiress who has written a novel under a pseudonym. The daughter of Austin, Texas millionaire Oliver Lyston, she constructed the fictional account based on events surrounding the murder of her sexually promiscuous older sister Susan. At the time, Bellamy was only twelve years old (the book’s title stems from a tornado that struck Austin eighteen years before the story begins, just prior to which the murder occurred). Bellamy claims to have written the book for therapeutic reasons—but then she went ahead and published it. It didn’t catch on until a “smarmy” newspaper reporter discovered who the real author was. The press went wild over a story that smacked of sex, a beautiful heiress, and an unsolved murder, and Bellamy Price became an instant celebrity.
Unfortunately, some of the people who had been involved in the events of eighteen years earlier weren’t thrilled by the book’s contents. Bellamy, it seems, may have become a target for one or more of them. After receiving a very disturbing package in the mail, she drops the book tour and leaves New York for Austin, Texas to regroup.
Bellamy’s father is dying of cancer. She charters a plane for her stepmother, father and herself to fly to a Houston medical center. To fly the charter she hires someone from her past, charter pilot Dent Carter. Carter is not happy to see her: there are too many bad memories. As Susan’s boyfriend, he was the first to come under suspicion for her murder and his life has not yet fallen back into place. Why had Bellamy deliberately come to him now?
But he and Bellamy both shortly find themselves involved after his plane is vandalized. His plane is his life, and it has now become personal. Whoever is out for Bellamy has it out for him—and perhaps others as well. Was the wrong man convicted of the murder so many years ago, and if so who really committed the crime? Who is it that doesn’t want people to start reexamining the evidence?
We have a mystery: a mystery marked by thick suspense. There is a difference. Alfred Hitchcock was clear about the difference (mystery involves the mind, suspense the emotions). Few chapters are more suspenseful than the one in which a killer is hiding in Bellamy’s bedroom closet with a double-edged hunting knife as she and Dent are arguing for several pages down in the living room. We know he is waiting up there and we can only keep reading. I defy anyone who reads this far to stop reading at the end of chapter twenty-nine to turn out the lights. You’ll be up for at least two more chapters
Then, there’s the sexual tension. Dent and Bellamy clearly have chemistry—she remembers having a crush on him when she was twelve and it never really went away. Neither of them wants to admit it, and there is much angry banter between them. Brown is skilled at dialogue, and their interchanges create sparks. The sexual tension tightens when we learn that she has relationship issues that allow her to go only so far before saying “No”, which drives Carter to distraction. But he is determined to break through. I admit it: I kept turning pages. I’m really into sparky dialogue.
Brown writes sex scenes better than any writer working. Men sometimes write them with a “slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am” sort of style, but Brown got her creds as a writer of romance novels and this adds a deeper human dimension to her work (this may partly explain her success at making us care about her characters). She knows what makes a woman tick. Men are well advised to pay attention (and pick up some of that sparky dialogue).
Low Pressure, like many of Sandra Brown’s novels, is part murder mystery, part romance novel, and part Lifetime movie script. But it is wholly entertaining.