Chapter 16
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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Andrew Gross’s latest thriller captures the moral dilemmas that arise during calamity

“One wrong decision that can’t be taken back. Even the best of lives has one,” Andrew Gross writes on page one of his latest thriller, Everything to Lose, and this statement neatly sums up the action that sends his protagonist, Hilary Cantor, into a battle for survival. Hilary is a good person—a caring mother, law-abiding citizen, and industrious worker—who has, through no fault of her own, become trapped in an untenable life that can be salvaged only by money. Lots of money. And when lots of money unexpectedly appears, Hilary does what many good people in a desperate situation would do: she takes it. It’s the wrong decision, and it can’t be taken back.

Gross began his writing career by working with James Patterson on the Women’s Murder Club series and has since produced seven of his own novels, including No Way Back and Eyes Wide Open. His recurring detective, Ty Hauk, does not appear in this latest thriller, which springs from Gross’s personal interest in “the many poignant stories that came out of Superstorm Sandy.” Staten Island, which was so devastated in that storm, features prominently in Everything to Lose.

Hilary Cantor’s former life of comfort and plenty has been destroyed by the perfect storm of divorce and the Great Recession. She takes the money because she owes more on her house than it’s worth, she’s lost her job, and her special-needs son is finally showing improvement at a pricey private school. Hilary is on her way to beg for help from her ex-husband when the car in front of her runs off the road and rolls down a hill. The half-million dollars she finds next to the dead driver could fix her troubles, and the temptation to take it proves too much to resist. But afterward, as she tries to use the money, she finds life getting more complicated. “It isn’t exactly easy to convert a large amount of unreported cash into money you can spend,” she observes. It’s even harder when a psychopathic hit man is looking for it.

In taking the money from the wreck, Hilary unwittingly intrudes on the world of Patrick Kelty, New York City cop and Staten Island resident whose life and family have been upended by a more literal maelstrom: Superstorm Sandy. Kelty needs money to escape the clutches of the Russian Mob and, not incidentally, to put his home back together. He too is trapped by forces beyond his control and finds himself allied with Hilary, trying desperately to make everything come out right in the end. Or, failing that, to keep them both from getting killed.

Everything to Lose is the proverbial fast-paced thriller, replete with bad guys and enough gruesome violence to match any network crime show. It is also a study of financially desperate people who find themselves in situations that prompt rash action, along with the consequences that follow. Even the best of people can make one wrong decision.