REVIEW: Zero Days by Ruth Ware
Dear Ms. Ware:
After reading and enjoying The It Girl last year, I was pleased when Janine alerted me to your new book. I wasn’t sure about the blurb, though:
Hired by companies to break into buildings and hack security systems, Jack and her husband, Gabe, are the best penetration specialists in the business. But after a routine assignment goes horribly wrong, Jack arrives home to find her husband dead. To add to her horror, the police are closing in on their suspect—her.
Suddenly on the run and quickly running out of options, Jack must decide who she can trust as she circles closer to the real killer in this unpauseable and heart-pounding mystery…
The blurb also compares this to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, but it reminded me of another Angelina Jolie movie, “Salt”, in which a government agent goes on the run after she is framed for a crime and her husband is murdered. In Zero Days, Jack (nee Jacintha) is not a government agent, but she’s more resourceful than the average person, by far, due to her profession. I’m not sure why the blurb gave me pause…maybe just because it felt more like an action-y thriller than a psychological thriller? I am drawn more toward the latter, though whenever I read action-heavy books, I have to admit that they have a propulsive energy that often makes them really compelling reads.
Anyway, the book opens with Jack on the job, testing the security of a company by breaking in at night. Gabe, her husband, is home, doing his part from behind a computer screen. Jack gets in and out with a couple of close calls. Too close, as it turns out, because as she’s returning to her car, after she’s told Gabe she’s headed home, she walks into the arms of the waiting police. This delays her return home by several hours, and she can’t reach Gabe by phone. When she finally gets home, Jack finds a bloody scene – Gabe’s throat has been slit. In shock, she does not call the police for some unspecified period of time – she honestly doesn’t know if minutes or an hour have passed before she’s able to make the call. This lapse is later held against her.
Police are, or appear to be, initially sympathetic and unsuspicious of Jack. She goes to stay with her beloved older sister Helena and her family. But a day passes and Jack is called in for another police interview, one that doesn’t go quite as smoothly. Jack begins to regret brushing off her sister’s suggestion to bring an attorney (I agreed: sister was definitely right there).
Then the police leave Jack in the interview room and two things happen that prompt her flight – she receives an email from an insurance company about a policy that supposedly has just been taken out on Gabe’s life, and she overhears (way too conveniently) one of the cops talk about how clearly guilty she is and how they should just arrest her now. Jack McGyvers her way out of the police station and just like that she’s a fugitive from the law.
Even though I thought the overheard conversation was convenient, that, the mysterious life insurance policy, and the fact that Jack has good reason to distrust cops combined to make her choice to flee feel more logical than it might otherwise have seemed.
On the last point – when Jack was younger, she dated a cop, Jeff Leadbetter, for a short while. When she tired of his controlling ways and broke up with him, he assaulted her. Jack filed a report against him, but not only were there no consequences for him, but for some time after Jack was harassed by the police. Undeserved parking tickets, “random” traffic stops, her car tagged in the system as stolen and more. Eventually, the retaliation tapered off, but Jack hasn’t forgotten. She has a better than average reason for distrusting the police.
Also, while on the face of it Jack’s determination to “find the real killers” is unrealistic, she also has better than average skills and resources, as noted. Her first step is to try to find out who really took out the damning life insurance policy.
Jack has an untraceable phone and the support of her sister (I kind of liked that Helena wasn’t all “you need to turn yourself in!” but instead trusted Jack’s competence). She reaches out to Gabe’s best friend, Cole, who also works in tech security, for a company that develops apps. Cole provides Jack with a place to hide while she tries to break into the insurance company’s system and figure out who actually took out the life insurance policy on Gabe. But all too soon, Jack’s refuge is discovered and she has to run again.
The situation becomes increasingly dire – Jack injured her side fleeing her house (where she went after she left the police station), and the injury has become infected. The tension of the novel rachets up as the police close in on an seriously ill Jack.
There was a lot I liked about Zero Days: the writing is strong, Jack is a believably fierce heroine, and the pacing of the story kept me turning the (virtual) pages. Gabe was only in the story for a short time, but he was a well-drawn character and I really believed in Jack’s love for him and grief for his loss.
Where it lagged a little – the depiction of other characters, including Jack, was weaker. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of first-person narrative and action-focused plotting, but she felt a little cardboard to me.
Also, this wasn’t a book with a plethora of suspects or twists. By mid-point in the story, there were about two possible candidates, and one felt much more obvious than the other. The “why” was vaguely guessable too; the details weren’t really important.
Still, Zero Days engaged me from start to finish. It wasn’t my usual type of thriller, but it was worthy of a B+.