A Wilderness Camping Nightmare – Review of “Switchback” by Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Dr. Patrick Flint is disappointed and a tad irritated with Susanne’s last minute announcement that she’s not joining him, their teenage daughter Trish and Perry, their pre-adolescent son, camping and elk hunting in the mountains. Susanne is a city girl at heart and she’s none too happy with the move to nowheresville Wyoming anyway, so she’s looking forward to a little “me-time” while they’re gone.

Towing the loaded horse trailer, Patrick, Trish and Perry head up into the mountains. He wants to find a suitable campsite and get settled in. Even though it’s only mid-September, the nights can be freezing at this elevation and Patrick needs to make sure they’re squared away before nightfall. Also, snow is a possibility even this early in the season. After a few days of soaking rains and soggy socks, Patrick relents when a whiny Trish begs to stay behind at the campsite. Since nothing has gone as planned, Patrick is relieved at the thought of not having to listen to Trish’s smart mouth and incessant complaining. But when they return to the campsite it’s been trashed and there’s no sign of Trish.

Meanwhile back in town, Susanne has had a monkey wrench thrown into her plans for self-pampering. Not only did she total out Patrick’s beloved Porsche, she had a break-in at home and was held hostage by the intruder who also stole her car when he finally left. And now Susanne is sure that Patrick and their two children are in real danger and she elicits help from a neighbor to find them, despite the fact she doesn’t know where in the mountains they are. She didn’t take into consideration that there are thousands of miles of wilderness to search. Susanne only knows they’re in danger and she has to find them. But can they find them in time? Is she already too late?

“Switchback” takes place in Wyoming in 1976. No cell phones, GPS or any of the other sophisticated electronic gadgetry we take for granted today. Imagine if you will a mother’s sense of panic and no way to quickly communicate and coordinate with police, not to mention she hasn’t a shred of evidence to convince authorities of what she instinctively knows.

Author Pamela Fagan Hutchins has delivered a nail-biter that will keep you on the edge of your seat from early in the story all the way through. Book one in the Patrick Flint series is my first encounter with Hutchins work so I was pleasantly surprised when the story lived up to the hype in the blurbs. The plot is compelling. Our protagonist is a physician, so he’s no dummy but as a husband and father he’s as fallible and prone to mess ups as the rest of us. Besides, parents in the 70’s were no better equipped to deal with the mood swings and smart mouthed ways of teenaged girls than they are today. Huchins nailed that attitude as well as the parental frustration it causes.

I’m not sure about her portrayal of the bad guys though. On the one hand , they were ruthless and cold-blooded yet remarkably didn’t harm Susanne or Trish at all, which in my opinion, is unrealistically benign and unbelievable. Her descriptions of the spectacular beauty of the Rockies are excellent and made me nostalgic to go back and experience it all again. The sweeping vistas of a meadow in bloom, snow-capped mountains with low hanging clouds, ice cold mountain streams and catching glimpses of elk, big-horned sheep and moose are breathtaking sights never to be forgotten. Hutchins brought it all to life, intricately woven with a tale of abduction, murder and mayhem. Not an easy feat. Four stars.

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