Taylor Adams’ 2020 release No Exit was easily one of my favorite thrillers of last year, so when I found out he had a new book release for 2021, I jumped at the chance to review it. Hairpin Bridge has the same mesmerizing mix of non-stop action and high stakes drama that No Exit had but a few things keep this thriller from being quite as good as that one.
Around ninety days ago, Cambry Nyguen drove to Hairpin Bridge in a remote area of Montana and joined dozens of others who had caused it to be called “suicide bridge” by jumping to her death. That’s what it says on the official police report anyway.
Her twin sister Lena doesn’t believe it. Cambry was many things – mentally unstable, a complete loner, a liar, a sometimes thief – but she wasn’t suicidal. Determined to find the truth, Lena arranges to meet Corporal Raymond Raycevic at Hairpin. He was not only the officer who found Cambry’s body, he had also been the last person to see her alive. Just a short time before her death, he had pulled Cambry over to give her a warning about driving too fast. Lena wants to know what happened between those two encounters that could have resulted in her sister’s death. There had to be something – Officer Raycevic was named in the final, cryptic text sent from Cambry’s phone. Cambry had also made sixteen attempted calls to 911 that evening, none of which went through because Hairpin is surrounded by a miles long dead zone.
Lena and Raycevic’s meeting begins well. Lena asks for and receives permission to tape the conversation, explaining this is a technique recommended by her counselor to help process her grief. Raycevic is bemused but compliant. When relating the events of his experiences with Cambry, he is all an officer should be – professional with that just right mix of sympathy and sanitized fact. He goes over each encounter he had with Cambry patiently, in a clear, concise manner. But Lena knows right away that he is lying. The picture he paints – of a conciliatory speeder, a desperate young woman – doesn’t describe her sister – who was blatantly oppositional to authority, cool under pressure and brazenly confident. When Lena pushes back against Raycevic’s version of events, she gets more than she bargained for. There are a lot of secrets in the remote area where Cambry spent her final hours – secrets people will kill to keep. And Lena is about to stumble upon the biggest one of them all.
What impressed me the most about this novel is that Adams does the near impossible by creating a locked room scenario in the great outdoors. Raycevic, Lena and a third party soon find themselves in a standoff, where none can leave without exposing themselves to the possibility of being killed. The formation of this setting is absolutely brilliant and the eerie, chilling atmosphere of the confrontation occurring where the suicide (or murder) took place lends a deliciously sinister cadence to the situation. Typically, when people in a thriller offer long explanations for what they’ve done I struggle to believe that such confessions are anything but contrivances by the author to explain things to the reader. Not here – the location and context were sufficient explanation for me as to why people who had kept secrets for years were suddenly revealing copious amounts of incriminatory information in an uninhibited way
Adams’ handling of the pacing is also commendable. The story takes place over a number of hours and there is literally never a dull moment. The pacing is brisk and taut, the story in constant forward motion towards the explosive ending. I was so engaged in what was happening I didn’t want to put the book down at all.
As in most suspense stories, I can’t speak much to the details of what is happening or the people participating without entering into spoiler territory. I can tell you that there are technically four people involved in the tale – the three in the standoff and the dead Cambry – and only one of them is likeable, while two of them inspire a touch of sympathy and the fourth is a lunatic.
It is that final character who introduces the problems in the story by pulling the tale from improbable to unbelievable. They are written so shallowly that they are more caricature than character, which damages the gravitas of the story. It’s not all that noticeable as you are reading – the action is too vigorous to allow for a lot of contemplation – but once the story is over and the thinking starts, this aspect of the novel unravels a bit.
I’ve read several books this year where authors offer a false resolution before telling us what actually ensued. That happens several times here – where we think a sequence of events went one way and then learn it actually occurred differently. I’m sure this is meant to be part of the twists and turns that make the book thrilling but after following one too many fake leads down the rabbit hole I began to find it a touch irritating.
Ultimately, this story reminded me of nothing so much as a summer action blockbuster – entertaining while it lasts but not something that stands up to deep scrutiny. You are so engaged throughout you don’t really think of the flaws until after the whole thing is over. In many ways that makes this the perfect sunny day thriller. If you are looking for an adrenaline rush of a story which comes to an explosive final ending, Hairpin Bridge may be just the novel for you.