SEQUIM — Let us take a step inside the mind of Bryan Bennett, a man who, despite a horrific trauma in childhood, has grown up to be a successful, professional and happily married man.
The thing that haunts him, though, is the panic attack. It comes in the middle of the night, like a thief bent on robbing him of his long-sought peace.
Bryan tells his therapist how such an attack feels.
“Imagine that you’re standing right at the lip of a sheer 2,000-foot cliff and not feeling too keen about it. No guardrail, nothing to hold on to.
“Your companion, standing next to you, inexplicably turns on you and shoves you — hard — and over the edge you go, out into space.
“The feeling you have at that moment, the exact moment when your feet leave the earth and you hang over the abyss, staring down — that heart-stopping, overwhelming, mind-shattering terror — that’s what a panic attack is like.”
Bryan suffers from these attacks because he was abducted at age 5. He was tortured. And though he was reunited with his parents, the incident destroyed the happy life his family had once enjoyed.
Like so many who were wronged as children, Bryan chooses a profession that holds out some possibility of redemption: He becomes a hostage negotiator and a trainer for organizations targeted by terrorists.
This is the story of The Worst Thing, Sequim novelist Aaron Elkins’ 27th book.
He’ll read from and discuss the novel tonight at 7 at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St., and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Sequim Library, 630 N. Sequim Ave.
Admission is free to both readings, while copies of the hardcover will be available for purchase.
With The Worst Thing, Elkins makes a radical departure from his award-winning series of novels starring Gideon Oliver, a forensic anthropologist who travels the globe solving mysteries.
The author, who’ll turn 76 this year, has written 16 books with Oliver as the hero — most recently Skull Duggery, Uneasy Relations and Little Tiny Teeth — so he was ready to go somewhere new.
In The Worst Thing, Elkins goes far, physically and mentally.
He sets the story in Seattle and then Iceland, where Bryan, in an effort to face — and transcend — his fears, finds himself in the crisis that gave the novel its title.
The titular worst thing, as it turns out, is not Bryan’s worst fear of being abducted again.
It’s the abduction of his beloved wife, Lori, on the Iceland trip that started out as a step forward in their relationship.
This suspenseful story has dazzled fellow mystery novelists.
“Elkins delivers a mind-bending, heart-pounding read . . . I’m in awe,” wrote Ridley Pearson, author of the best-selling In Harm’s Way.
The Worst Thing is “an evocative portrayal of the inner workings of a mind tormented by terror,” added Jonathan Kellerman, the psychologist and writer of popular novels including Mystery and Deception.
So you might think Elkins, being so prolific, has these stories pour out of him like rivers of words. And he does say that Sequim, being so quiet, is “a great place for output.”
But with many of his novels, the writer reached a point where he was overtaken by doubt.
It happens around the middle, Elkins said: Like alligators from the stream, those doubts rise up. The plot doesn’t seem to be working, and he asks, “What ever made me think I had a book here?”
There have been times that he cast the whole project aside, only to rescue it later.
He did this with The Worst Thing, and he accepts the possibility that it may happen again with the book he’s just begun: another Gideon Oliver mystery.
Elkins was refreshed and ready to return to Oliver after writing The Worst Thing, thanks in part to the fact that he took a nine-day trip to Iceland to research his story’s setting.
The book shimmers with Icelandic color, including a soak in the Blue Lagoon, one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
For the next book, Elkins of course had to engage in copious study of Oliver’s surroundings.
This time, he wanted to place his protagonist in the world of wineries and so found it necessary to leave the North Olympic Peninsula’s wet, chilly spring behind.
“I just got back,” Elkins admitted last week, “from Tuscany.”
________Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]