The One That Got Away by Simon Wood is a contemporary mystery/crime thriller, and a good one at that. Zoë and Holli are grad students at UC Davis who went to Las Vegas to let their hair down and de-stress, but on the drive back, something terrible happens. Zoë wakes up to find herself naked and bound in a dirty toolshed, and she can hear someone screaming - it's Holli. They had stopped for food and gas in a small town, but everything is fuzzy and Zoë can't remember what got them into this situation. All she can think about is getting out of it.
Fifteen months later, the events of that night have changed Zoë completely. Her life is on a much different track and she's a different person now. She hasn't gotten over what happened - not even close - but she's coping in her own way. That is, until something happens that sends her right back into the path of the man who abducted her and Holli. The media has nicknamed him the "Tally Man," and it seems he has a score to settle with Zoë.
I sat down intending just to read maybe the first few chapters before bed the other night, but ended up reading it straight through. Even if I'd wanted to put it down, I don't think I would have been able to sleep - every sound and shadow would have probably freaked me out too much.
Zoë and Holli seem like they were probably pretty normal young women before and during their Vegas trip: they got a little rowdy, sure, but who isn't going to let loose in a place like Las Vegas? That's basically the whole point of that town. In The One That Got Away, Wood has taken one of women's worst legitimate fears and given us the nightmare worse-case scenario: a self-righteous man with psychological baggage is taking it upon himself to teach people a lesson. He's not exactly Dexter, though, as the reasons he targets a victim are for relatively benign social infractions. I mean. there is ONE victim I agree needed to be punished, but I would have thought maybe more along the lines of being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Another victim definitely got what he deserved, but he's more of a side-plot sort of thing, and doesn't really "count" as a Tally Man kill. If you read TOTGA, you'll know what I'm talking about with that.
Anyway, I liked Zoë a lot. She went from environmental policy PhD candidate to mall cop with a short fuse, and given the circumstances, her new violent streak is pretty understandable. Ever since that night, Zoë has lived her life determined never to be a victim again, and as a result, she kind of flies off the handle more than once at people. Honestly, I chalk it up to her PTSD. Either way, I don't know how intentional it was, but Wood has written a very feminist book, in the sense that we have a male antagonist who thinks he knows what's best for everyone else - particularly women - and goes out of his way to try and "correct" them. His motives aren't sexually driven, and there is no rape in this book, but even rape in and of itself is not about sex - it's about demonstrating power over someone else. Zoë continues to dress and act exactly how she wants, except now she does so with a conscious effort to never again allow someone to gain the upper hand with her. Her only crime is to have been perceived as a slut after a weekend in Vegas by a psychologically disturbed man who didn't even know her.
Don't go thinking that because I said this is a feminist book, that this means all the male characters in it are villains. First of all, because feminism is not misandry, but also because many of the other characters do happen to be men, and many of the more central male characters are very good friends to Zoë throughout the book; they look out for her and help her as best they can, but they don't do so in an irritating and unnecessarily patronizing way (well except maybe for Dr. Jarocki, but as a therapist, it's kind of unavoidable for him to come off as at least a little patronizing). So, to toss around some formerly-trending Twitter hashtags, The One That Got Away demonstrates the notion that, yes, "not all men," but "yes all women." Yes All Women in the case of this book, because while obviously only very few of the male characters are assholes and showcase a misogynistic streak, it's very true that ALL women were potential targets as victims of the Tally Man. All it would take would be one random encounter - direct OR indirect - at the wrong moment.
Now, it's entirely possible someone could read this book and NOT get any feminist subtext from it. As a feminist myself, though, it came through really clear for me whether the theme was intentional or not on the part of the author. So if for some reason feminism turns you so completely off that you've already decided not to read this, I'd strongly suggest you reconsider. It's a fast-paced page-turner of a story that had me totally engrossed from beginning to end. I also really enjoyed getting to read both from the killer's point of view as well as from Zoë's. I'm looking forward to keeping an eye out for other books by Wood.