What is the summary for Greg Iles’s 24 Hours?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Greg Iles: A Biography

Greg Iles was a professional musician before turning his hand to writing, and his first novel, his debut novel, Spandau Phoenix, landed on the New York Times Best Seller list. 24 Hours doesn't offer the precision writing and crafting that were evident in Spandau Phoenix, but, still, there is Iles's typical plot complexity born of how disparate groups of people find their lives overlapping and how that unanticipated overlap influences events that bring terror and suspense.

Besides being a gifted and much lauded author, with thirteen of his fourteen novels hitting the New York Times Best Seller list, Iles is an example of courage, fortitude and optimism. In 2011, Iles was in a horrific traffic accident. While attempting to cross a highway in his home state of Mississippi, a pick-up truck slammed into his car from the driver's side. Injured badly, with leg, pelvis and hand in severe condition, Iles went through a long and difficult recovery during which he had to adjust to using a prosthetic device, having lost his right leg below the knee.

Iles used his recovery and physical therapy time to launch a trilogy about his recurring character Penn Cage. When he was interviewed by Billy Watkins of The Clarion-Ledger for the publication of the first volume, Natchez Burning, it was reported that he was the same old Greg Iles who had first made the NYT list with Spandau Phoenix. He remained cheerful and authentic throughout the interview, though recounting the tragedy of his accident and the adjustments he has made brought out tears of lingering sorrow. Iles, like his protagonists in 24 Hours, Will and Karen Jennings, maintained his vision of life, self and of the interconnectedness of vital human relationships and used this strength to fight where fighting was need and to embrace the final results, even though there remained scars.

24 Hours: A Summary    

24 Hours is the story of how four sets of people find their lives connected, tortured, changed, then finally liberated. The four sets of people are Doctor and Margaret McDill and their son Peter McDill; Doctor Will Jennings, his wife and surgical nurse Karen Jennings and their daughter Abby; Joe Hickey, Huey Cotton, Cheryl, and Joe's mother, Viola Simkins; Agent Chalmers of the FBI and Officer Washington of the Mississippi State Police. Iles's third party narrator tells the tale by switching between the groups of people, so, while the plot develops chronologically, it develops through the chronology occurring in, eventually, at least six different locations.

Margaret and Peter

Margaret McDill and Joe Hickey are sitting in her car in the parking lot of a large shopping mall. Not far from them is the golden arch of a McDonald's restaurant. Margaret is extremely distraught and has a bruised face. She eyes the gun resting on the console between her and Joe, who occupies the driver's seat, but dare grab it. Down the parking lot, just about directly in front of the McDonald's, sit Peter and Huey in a beaten up green pick-up truck. Peter is physically fine, though his hands are bound with duct tape. Emotionally, Peter is frightened and worried.

After Joe receives a phone call confirming money has been transferred to his bank account, he releases Margaret, and Huey releases Peter. Margaret runs with a clumsy gait toward McDonald's, which is where Joe said she'd find Peter. Peter looks all around the grounds of McDonald's searching for his mother because that is where Huey said he would be reunited with her. Margaret crashes through the door to McDonald's outside area where Peter is searching for her, sees him, and with wild cries breaking from her throat, grabs him. Their ordeal of "kidnap-for-ransom" is over.

Joe counts on the fact that his victims will never report the crime. He counts on the fact that he, alone, has found a foolproof method of staging a kidnapping-for-ransom without fear of being caught by the police or the FBI. In fact, he counts on the fact that the authorities will never be notified of a kidnapping in progress. The unfolding of the answer to why Joe Hickey is so very confident that he can successfully pull off a succession of kidnappings-for-ransom without fear of retribution forms a significant part of the suspense and horror that develops through the rest of the novel.

Will, Karen and Abby  

The protagonists are introduced as a slightly resentful Karen sends her anesthesiologist husband Will off to an annual medical convention where he will be the keynote speaker. Karen, a surgical nurse, is not completely happy about putting her career on hold in order to be a stay-at-home mother taking care of her beloved five-year-old Abby, but Karen feels the need to choose in Abby's favor because Abby suffers from juvenile diabetes and needs careful and constant monitoring for changes in her blood sugar level.

Will, however, is very happy about flying off, as the pilot of his more than $300,000 private jet, to be the convention's keynote speaker. Though he loves Karen and Abby completely, he doesn't do well at understanding Karen's resentment over her lost career, consequently, he finds it hard to understand why she would rather stay to participate in a flower show than accompany him to the medical convention, a convention she would, in other circumstances, be attending as a delegate in her own right.

Once Karen and Abby are back at home, their routine is horribly interrupted by the actions of Joe and Huey who have entered the Jennings' house during their absence. When Abby goes to the bedroom wing of the large Victorian home, Joe sedates her and hands her out the window to Huey who is waiting and who puts her in the green truck. In a scene that foreshadows the ultimate ending of the saga Karen, Abby and Will are about to live through, Huey loses control of the truck with the unconscious Abby in it. In a valiant action prompted by fear of Joe and concern for Abby, Huey regains control in just the nick of time. Huey drives Abby to their safe-house where she will be kept without harm for 24 hours, the time needed to fulfill Joe's sinister kidnap-for-ransom plan.

Back at the house, Joe makes a stunned, angry and horrified Karen acquainted with his actions and the expected progress of events over the ensuing 24 hours. Not one to take adversity quietly, Karen manages to sneak into her bedroom where Will keeps a .38 caliber handgun. Checking the bullet chambers, five full, one empty, Karen descends the stairs to confront Joe in the kitchen with gun in hand. Karen pleads with Joe to allow the kidnapping to proceed with her at the same location as Abby because Abby must have her medicine. After a series of dramatic events in which Joe confirms Abby's illness and need for her shots, he agrees to consider taking Karen to Abby so her shots can be administered.

Meanwhile, at the convention, Will has been distracted during the delivery of his speech by visual seduction emanating from a pair of staring eyes belonging to a leggy, blond beauty whose relentlessly fixed attention has even made him lose his place so his words are momentarily out of synch with his slide show. Afterward, he finds himself at gunpoint in her room, having already rejected her offer of seduction back in his room. True to the plan, Joe calls Cheryl, his beautiful accomplice, on her cell phone, but their kidnappers' protocol is broken when Joe allows Karen to tell Will that Abby's life is in danger unless he confirms her need for medical attention. Having heard Will confirm Abby's condition of juvenile diabetes, Joe finally confirms he'll allow Karen to see Abby, but only long enough to give Abby her shot.

Abby

Now, both Will and Karen know that they are in a fight for Abby's life. Joe takes Karen to Abby, but Karen is blindfolded part of the way and Joe drives without headlights over the uneven forest road the rest of the way. In the traumatic scene where Karen and Abby are reunited and Karen administers Abby's medication, Karen manages to whisper to Abby that, if she is alone and if she sees Huey's phone, she should sneak outside of the house she is kept in and call "nine-one-one." Abby says she remembers "nine-one-one" and their home phone number, too. When Joe drags Karen away from Abby, Karen strikes a blow at Joe then tries to run back to Abby, but she is only knocked unconscious by Joe and thrown into the car.

Motivated by the thought of Abby in danger, Will wrestles the gun from Cheryl. Her hand is injured in the process, and Will says that he can "fix that" but that she must tell him where Abby is being held. Even threats of violence don't prompt her to talk because, she tells Will, there is nothing that he can do that hasn't already been done before.

Doctor and Margaret McDill

The night of Abby's abduction is one year later for the McDills. During that year, true to Joe's plan and expectation, the McDills kept their tragedy to themselves even though Margaret was wasting away emotionally and physically after having tried to wash the memories away with "a bottle a day." Doctor McDill dares to reopen the conversation about what happened a year ago while he and Margaret are sitting at the dinner table in their elegant mansion. Peter is upstairs preparing to go out with a friend. McDill says that his conscious is troubling him because, if what he understood from Cheryl, his blond captor, then the kidnappings were an annual event coinciding with the annual Mississippi medical convention. He felt responsible that they had kept silence, potentially allowing the plan to be reenacted.

Later that same night, Margaret has a temporary breakdown and finally tells her husband that, while Cheryl was seducing him, Joe was viciously and sadistically raping her. McDill vows to kill Joe but calls the FBI instead, finding Joe's threat to kill Peter an empty one after a year and in the face of the probability of a new kidnapping in progress.

Will and Cheryl, Karen and Joe

Will holds Cheryl at gunpoint. Having learned that Joe is Cheryl's husband, Will asks her to tell him everything he knows about what motivates Joe Hickey. He especially wants to know why Hickey, obsessed as he seems to be with displays of macho power, thinks that holding the wife in the kidnap scheme demonstrates more machismo than holding the husband in a man-on-man confrontation. Will switches tactics and tries to learn about Joe by asking about Huey.

In along section of suspenseful and shocking detail, Joe reveals to Karen why he fulfills his macho prowess by holding the wife hostage instead of by holding the husband. In his twisted view of ultimate machismo, Joe demands of Karen the sexual attentions that Margaret has not yet recovered from. But Karen fights back. In a quick-minded reaction to Joey's attempts at sexual domination, she uses a disposable scalpel she finds in her bathroom to wound Joe severely along his inner thigh. Karen gets the upper-hand and reclaims the gun Joe had taken control of. Meanwhile, in the midst of her mother's own struggle and through a complicated series of events, Abby has actually managed to phone home on Huey's cell phone.

   "Listen, honey. Do you remember how to call nine-one-one? If you do that, the police can come get--" ...
   "What the hell are you doing? Given me that phone!" Hickey was coming through the bathroom door, ... not wanting to put too much weight on his injured leg. ...
   Karen grabbed the .38 off the bed, pointed it at him, and fired.
   Hickey hit the floor like a soldier under incoming artillery and covered his head with both hands.
   "TELL ME WHERE MY BABY IS ...!"

With Joe at gunpoint, and with Abby on the line, Karen demands to know Abby's location. She shoots at Joe when he advances to lunge on her. Joe retaliates by screaming to Huey over the phone that he is to strangle Abby if Huey hears any more shooting.

While Will holds Cheryl at gunpoint in a hotel in Biloxi and Karen holds Joe at gunpoint in the bedroom of her home, McDill and Margaret tell their story to the FBI, emphasizing that they feel another medical convention kidnapping scheme is probably underway at that very moment. Agent Bill Chalmers in the Jackson Field Office of the FBI, believes and understands the McDill's, who are able to identify the photograph of Cheryl Lynn Tily. McDill threatens Chalmers with his lawyer when Chalmers wants to make Peter a witness, too.

Karen uses Joe's cell and her land-line to get both Will and Abby on the line at the same time, but Abby is recaptured by Huey.

Will accelerates his efforts to get information from Cheryl by turning the tables on the captors. Having already become Cheryl's captor, he now becomes her torturer. Believing that somehow, something is different in Joe Hickey's eyes about this kidnap-for-ransom, Will binds Cheryl, stuffs her mouth with socks to silence her and administers the potent muscle relaxant succinylchlorine (with the antidote at hand) in order to terrify her into telling everything she knows.

Karen successfully gets a SkyTel message through to Will that warns him that Abby will die in the morning no matter what. Since Cheryl has said over and over that the "kid" never gets hurt, he asks her what is different about this kidnapping:

   "[Karen] sent me that message. What is it, Cheryl? What's different about this time? ... Open your eyes and tell me why this time is different. Don't make me inject you again."

Cheryl tells Will that Joe blames Will for the death of his mother, Viola Simkins, last year. During surgery, her doctor didn't use the SCDs, sequential compression devices, which caused her to develop a pulmonary embolus, a blood clot. The doctor lied and blamed it on Will, the anesthesiologist, so Joe is going to exact revenge.

   "That's why [Karen] sent the message. And that's why Joe is going to kill Abby. To punish me."
   "He never told me that," Cheryl insisted.

Karen, on the phone with Will again, tells him of Joe's sexual assault. Karen and will work together to synchronize efforts while both are working with Chalmers of the FBI and Officer Washington of the Sate Police.

Reunion

   "[Karen] just held Abby tight and asked someone--anyone--to call the state police and the FBI. Three men detached themselves from the crowd and trotted back toward the line ..."

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