Any heroine whose first words are “Get Up” and who wears sensible, protective boots is going to get my attention, and Jodi Compton’s Hailey Cain does just that. A West Point drop-out feeling that her life is over, as you do when you’re 23 and think the choices you made when you were 18 define you forever, she agrees to do a favour for an old school friend, now a gang member.
Sounds simple enough: accompany a Mexican girl, Nidia, from LA to a village off the beaten track in Mexico so she can look after a sick, elderly relative. Hailey, a lonely bike messenger pleased to rekindle a friendship, doesn’t ask too many questions and drives straight into an ambush where she’s shot twice whilst trying to escape with her passenger and left for dead away from the road where she won’t get found. She does get up and makes it back to the road before losing consciousness. Next time she wakes up she finds herself in a Mexican hospital, the anonymous victim of a road traffic accident waking from a medically induced coma with no identity papers, no travel documents. Thanks to West Point, her fingerprints are in the system so proving her identity isn’t a problem but proving she was ambushed by gangsters and Nidia was abducted is impossible.
The sensible thing would be to return home and back to her previous life as a bike messenger in San Francisco. But having dropped out of West Point and run away from LA following an incident, Hailey doesn’t want to walk away. She knows she’s out of her depth, but feels a responsibility towards Nidia. Despite being up against lawyered-up, trained hoodlums and, reluctantly involving her friend’s gang members, Hailey hatches a simple plan. Find out where Nidia is, rescue her and return her to her family. But then Hailey works out Nidia is pregnant and the person who arranged the original abduction is the baby’s grandfather. He wants his grandchild as the grandchild’s father is dead and Nidia is merely an incubator, no use to him once she’s delivered the baby. The grandfather has resources from both legitimate and illegitimate business connections and access to information that Hailey can only dream about. He finds out why Hailey left West Point.
Hailey’s only advantages are that she’s a wild card and Nidia trusts her to keep her baby away from its grandfather’s clutches. She also gets chance to made amends for the earlier incident in LA, even though no one blames her for what happened and her feelings of guilt are misplaced.
Jodi Compton tells a compelling story in muscular prose. The viewpoint is credibly that of a young woman thinking on her feet, drawing on the combined resources of a military training and friendship. Hailey’s narration doesn’t feel restrictive either, although readers are only passed information on a need to know basis, the flow of information and background detail is natural.
Jodi Compton is skilled at keeping the pace fast whilst also keeping readers on board. The more readers learn about Hailey, the more likeable she becomes. Like Nidia, readers come to trust that Hailey will somehow overcome the rough hand she’s been dealt, although, as with real life, not all ends get neatly tied up. I would love to meet Hailey Cain again.