Jodie Cramer and her friends Hannah, Louise and Corrine head off to an isolated B & B near Bald Hill for their annual getaway. Jodie is the organiser this time, and isn't too happy when the weekend starts off with a near car-crash, stranding them on the road at night. The incident also seems to trigger memories of an attack she suffered as a teenager, in which her friend was raped and murdered by three men, and Jodie herself stabbed six times whilst escaping.
With the help of haunted ex-cop Matt Wisemore, the women eventually make it to the cabin, but Jodie is now totally paranoid. She thinks two men who stop past the cabin are there for nefarious purposes. She sees two flashlights roaming the grounds at night. She hears a car make two laps of the cabin around 3am. When she airs her fears to her friends, they believe she is overreacting and heading towards a breakdown.
But they should have listened! When Kane and Travis Anderson stop by for a seemingly innocent visit, events quickly spiral out of control and the four women - plus Matt - must try and survive a night of violence.
Think light torture-porn meets your typical romantic suspense novel and you get some idea of the uncomfortable melding of genres that is "Beyond Fear". Matt is straight out of central casting, an alpha male haunted by his inability to save innocent lives during a hostage situation, and wary of getting involved in anything that might require innocent people to depend on him. Jodie is a too-stupid-to-live heroine haunted by a long-ago attack after which she vows she would never leave people behind again. They carry on and on about their respective issues to the point of martyrdom. Jodie in particular is so focused on saving her friends that she probably does them a disservice. She states at one point that she can't leave them behind because she could never live with herself if she did. So, really, it's all about her.
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
One of the women does eventually manage to ecape and run away. And she calls the cops. An act that you would expect any rational person to do. Except stubborn, selfish Jodie, apparently. No, she can't leave people behind, she can't live with the possible consequences of that decision. Well, boo hoo. How about making the decision that would best serve everybody? Ugh, it really made my blood boil.
END SPOILER END SPOILER END SPOILER
Light torture-porn is probably being a bit harsh, but the women do get knocked around a fair bit. The novel also holds the threat of rape over the reader as a rather heavy-handed way of creating suspense. And, to be fair, there are some suspenseful scenarios, but not enough of them. The novel danced around the various possibilities of taking the violence further, but always backed away. It's hard to say whether this is a good thing: the book could have done with being grittier, but then it might not be so enjoyable. I think the author might have taken the less difficult route. In the hands of Karin Slaughter, for example, I imagine things would have gotten very rough.
Jodie's unfortunate unlikeability meant that my sympathy eventually lay with Corrine, Hannah and Louise, so I was fearful for their safety, and this was the source of much of the suspense. There wasn't as much guarantee they would necessarily make it to the end in one piece. However, their characters are pretty much abandoned in the final act so we can watch Jodie and Matt develop feelings for one another whilst playing Rambo.
The other element that really irked me was that if Jodie was so paranoid about safety and not being placed in vulnerable situations, what on Earth was she doing organising a getaway in an isolated cabin? She mentions she didn't think it would be that isolated when looking at the cabin's website, but why risk something even slightly isolated in the first place? Why not a nice luxury resort with lots of people around? I know there wouldn't have been a book if they went to the Hilton, but Jodie really lays the safety lessons on thick. Even though I knew (because I was the reader) that Jodie was right to be worried, I was just as annoyed at her as her friends were.
I appreciated what "Beyond Fear" was trying to do. The set-up was suspenseful, but the execution didn't pull it off. Instead of a tense, unsettling home-invasion thriller, I got a tentative mix between gritty thriller and romantic suspense novel. It didn't quite gel.