Tom Hunt’s sophomore effort, “One Fatal Mistake,” takes as its starting point the same sort of moral dilemma that drove his debut, “Killer Choice”: what compromises might you make to protect a loved one? “One Fatal Mistake” changes direction pretty quickly, however, sacrificing some philosophical complexity in favor of a high stakes hostage situation of which no one is firmly in control.
Hunt, a native of Washington, Iowa, sets his new novel in and around Cedar Rapids. As the book opens, Joshua is frantically trying to cover up a deadly confrontation. His return to the scene of the incident coincides with the arrival of Ross and Amber, a married couple who have recently robbed a bank, ditched their partner, and found themselves stranded in the Iowa countryside.
It’s a big coincidence on which to build one’s plot, but Hunt keeps the action moving so relentlessly that there is barely time to reflect on this — or any of the story’s other less-than-fully-plausible details. The danger is always palpable as is the desperation of nearly all of the characters, each of whom is trying to find the best path through an untenable situation and most of whom believe they are doing bad things to accomplish good ends.
For all the questions about — and gradations of good and evil — on display in “One Fatal Mistake,” the book does feature one character who is irredeemably bad. Shane, Ross’ double-crossed brother, is implacable and brutal, and Hunt brings these facts to the page with a graphicness that, at times, feels overdone. Still, Shane stands as a marker against which the actions of other characters can be measured. These other characters may be morally compromised, but get a load of Shane.
In the end, the book brings Joshua and his parents face-to-face with the conundrum that opens the novel. The resolution is fairly predictable and this framing story feels as if it is given short shrift. That’s not wholly satisfying, but it isn’t a fatal mistake.
• What: Tom Hunt will discuss his new book, “One Fatal Mistake”
• Iowa City: 7 p.m. Thursday at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.
• Washington: 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Washington Public Library, 115 W. Washington Blvd.