The poor woman. She’s been a good person all her life. A good person with terrible luck. Andrew Gross’s “Everything to Lose” is her story, a spell-binding, heart-wrenching one. And an edge-of-your-seat mystery to boot.
Hilary is a wonderful friend and a terrific mom to her young son Brandon, who is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. But her ex-husband is a deadbeat; and even though she has been a hard worker all her life, she has been laid off from her most recent decent job – a victim of the recession and Superstorm Sandy.
Then, by sheer chance, she witnesses an accident. As she is driving home, a car in front of her veers off the road and careens down a steep hill, smashing into a tree. She immediately shifts into help mode and runs to the wrecked car to try to save the driver. But he is dead. Next to him, however, is a satchel. Her curiosity gets the best of her, and she opens it. It contains $500,000 in one hundred dollar bills, enough to straighten out her crumbling finances and to continue helping her stricken son.
Temptation triumphs. She stows the satchel in the nearby woods at a place where she can retrieve it after the police have inspected and cleared the accident site.
Several days later, she returns to claim her prize, thereby placing herself in a position in which she now has Everything to Lose.
The plot develops in blurs and mazes of questions and puzzles. Who was the driver? Why did he have half-a-million dollars in cash? Whom was he trying to call right before the accident? Why was he placing that call?
It soon becomes all too apparent that the driver was involved in a nefarious scheme involving blackmail, a powerful man who is a multiple murderer, a policeman who has troubles similar to Hilary’s own, the Ukrainian Mafia, and the endangerment and loss of many innocent lives, all because of her one rash action, her terrible mistake.
Hilary and all the characters affected by her actions are beautifully, acutely, and sympathetically drawn -- and she is not the only one who has exhibited rash but understandable behavior leading to devastating consequences.
The plot and the unraveling of the many mysteries are also finely delineated. And the climaxes (yes, plural) and dénouement are surprising but logical. If you are looking for a satisfying, comfortable, wrap-it all-up-in-a-bright-ribbon conclusion, it is right there for you. Unfortunately for you and the characters, however, that conclusion is not the end of the novel.
Mr. Gross is not that kind – not that kind to his characters and not quite that kind of author. He is, however, a terrific story-teller and an astute observer of the best and worst of human nature. And those qualities are brilliantly illuminated in “Everything to Lose.”