The Breathtaker

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Widower and single parent, Police Chief Charlie Grover, works in the small Oklahoma town of Promise, where nothing much ever happens, except during tornado season, when all Hell literally can break loose in this part of Oklahoma commonly referred to as Tornado Alley. But something makes Charlie believe there’s more going on than dangerous weather.

For help Charlie seeks out researcher Dr. Willa Bellman and her assistant, Rick Kripner, who study violent storms at the Wind Function Facility in the Environmental Sciences lab at Dryden Technical College in a nearby town. Rick has a talent for accurately predicting where the worst tornados will drop out of the sky, even when the weather geniuses get it wrong.

As tornado season heats up and the storms increase in frequency, evidence mounts convincing Charlie that some of the storms’ apparent victims in fact died by a human hand. And, because the murders occur in the moments when the huge storms touch down, Charlie also begins to wonder if the murderer might not be a “storm chaser,” a person who drives across open country to be where these killer storms come to earth. One such person is Charlie’s estranged dad, Isaac, who, because of mounting evidence, becomes Charlie’s prime suspect.

Alice Blanchard’s The Breathtaker is fast-paced and unrelenting in its violence, taking readers into the eye of a ferocious storm chase scene in which Charlie battles to beat the tornado to the killer, who, by this time, holds his daughter, Sophie, hostage. The final scenes not only offer visceral details that chillingly bring both the deadly tornado and the human serial killer to life, but they also provide a satisfying twister of an ending.