Review: “The Passenger,” Lisa Lutz

Pros: Fascinating character study
Cons: Resolution came too quickly
Rating: 4 out of 5

Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger is a fascinating thriller. Tanya Dubois just found the body of her husband, Frank, at the bottom of the stairs. As far as she can tell, he fell–nothing suspicious there. But will the police believe her? Tanya’s had experience with running and hiding, and she decides it’s time to do it again–just pack up, leave, and be someone else. The problem is, making a new life and a new name for yourself isn’t nearly as easy as most fiction depicts. She meets up with a woman named Blue, and ends up swapping identities with her so that each of them can get a new start. Unfortunately, both of their lives come with baggage, and Blue’s baggage threatens to ruin Tanya’s new life.

 

In almost all thrillers, new identities are just a phone call away–perfect packets containing everything a person needs. When people go into hiding, they find it easy to get new jobs, friends, and so on. But the truth is, it isn’t that easy. Especially today, when everyone has an internet presence, you need multiple forms of identification for almost everything, and finding out that someone’s wanted by the police is as easy as turning on the nightly news. Ms. Lutz does an incredible job of turning this fight for identity–or new identities–into the basis for a thriller. The main character (who we will call Tanya for the sake of simplicity) relies on more and more tenuous threads in her desire to escape her pasts. I loved watching her try on new and different habits, interests, styles, and so on each time she had to become someone new. Each time it became tougher, and each time she bought herself fewer days of peace. Tanya as a character (both under that name, and as each new identity) was fascinating. At times she seems clinically cool and detached, making it easier for her to do what she has to do. She’s a “person of interest” in her husband’s death, but that isn’t the only part of her past that’s trying to catch up to her. As she goes, she learns more about what she’s willing to do in order to protect herself and her identity.

Blue is also fascinating. She and Tanya have different ways of trying to blend in (or not). And Blue’s messing around could force Tanya to go back and face her own original identity–and her first murder charge. While we don’t see Blue on screen for all that long, she has a profound effect on Tanya’s life. She develops real depth despite her limited screen time.

The ending of the book (don’t worry–I won’t spoil it) left me a bit ambivalent. I loved the details that came out, but it felt a little anti-climactic in some ways. The author spent so much detail on every angle of what came before that the end went a little too quickly. It was the only discordant note in an otherwise well-choreographed character study.

 

NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher.
Expected publication date: March 1, 2016

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