The horror of the massacre scene at Virginia Tech in April 2007 was the impetus for "Lockdown," a new novel by LDS author Traci Hunter Abramson.
At Virginia Tech, 32 students and professors were killed by a gunman before he killed himself.
In "Lockdown," the fictional Oswell Barron University's Sedgely Hall had been the scene of a later massacre in which 23 people died. Student Riley Palmetta had been in the classroom where the shootings took place and had survived by playing dead.
Now, two years later, she is a graduate student at Oswell Barron studying criminal psychology and dealing with the mental trauma and panic attacks stemming from the shootings.
She had agreed to be part of a university task force to prevent such incident, and that role led her to direct a project to teach law enforcement officers from around the country to deal with sudden emergencies on campus. Helping her in the eight-week training objective is the "Saint Squad," a team of five Navy SEALs — all of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When she meets Tristan Crowther, returned missionary and one of the SEALs, she notices: "His sandy-colored hair was in need of a trim, and his face would have been more pretty than handsome had it not been for the slashing scar along his jaw."
He notices: "Her pale blond hair fell in waves to her shoulders, and the faintest dusting of freckles was visible on her nose." And once they find out the other is a Mormon, the stage is set for drama and, of course, love.
As the story progresses over the eight weeks, there's a healthy dose of tension mixed with subplots of illegal gambling, child physical abuse, unethical psychiatrists, murders and attempted murders — plus a number of clever plot twists. In one of them, the local high school becomes the scene of a not-for-practice stand-down when a student storms a classroom and wants to shoot his father, a teacher. It turns out that a substitute teacher is leading the class that day, and the team of SEALs races to save lives during what could be a massacre.
Abramson, a graduate of Brigham Young University, former Central Intelligence Agency agent and stay-at-home mother who lives in Virginia, has several books to her credit. "Lockdown" shows she has done a lot of research before firing up her computer, and the story line holds the reader's interest. She also captures the angst and uncertainty of young single adults as they navigate school, careers and their search for — and/or aversion to — long-term dating and marriage commitments.
The book is not without a few weaknesses.
Misspellings (Sao Paolo instead of Sao Paulo for the city in Brazil and "His focus didn't waiver" — instead of waver), an occasional missing word and minor typos are irritating. Referring to the pentagon, instead of the Pentagon, also could have been avoided with tighter editing. And occasional stilted dialogue with cliches — "At this point, only time will tell" — interfere with the adventure.
Abramson also sent me to the dictionary with the sentence: "The corners of his mouth quirked up." Quirked? Turns out it means "twisted," so why not just write, "The corners of his mouth twisted up"?
Slight irritants aside, however, "Lockdown" is a quick, engaging read that makes you think, "OK, just one more chapter before I go to sleep."