Few of the several books I read each week meet my expectations. Allison (A Kane Novel) by Steve Gannon, exceeded them. I was engaged from the very first page.
We meet Alison (Ali) when she is almost twenty, a UCLA student planning to transfer to SC for her junior year in order to study journalism. We also learn she was raped when she was sixteen during a robbery in her home when her parents and older brothers were out, and she had kept the experience to herself for a year. Then she had finally told her parents and the police. She had sworn her younger brother, Nate, who was there at home with her when it happened, to secrecy. The fact that she had kept the secret for a year had broken a bond of trust with her parents. She had finally mended that bond with her father, but not her mother. Her relationship with her mother was still edgy and fraught with conflict. That conflict is a constant undertone in the plot.
Allison’s mother, Catheryne (Kate) and older brother, Travis, are both talented musicians. Her father, Daniel Kane, is supervising homicide detective for the West Los Angeles Division of the LAPD. Her oldest brother, Tom, had been killed in a rock-climbing accident. Nate, the youngest in the family, is fourteen, and very likable and expressive. He is loyal, and though he can get very angry, he also is quick to forgive.
The book opens with Allison’s early morning jog around the UCLA campus. She lived in a private dorm that had once been a sorority house, and very close to Hershey Hall, the dorm where I had lived for a semester in 1962. I rather enjoyed following Ali around the campus past the places I had frequented myself. I could identify with her choosing the botanical gardens as a place to retreat, since I often sought refuge there myself.
When she returned to the dorm, she wrote a rough draft for a Daily Bruin article with a rapidly approaching deadline, and then she worked on her novel. She wasn’t quite sure why she was writing the novel, since she never intended to show it to anyone.
About 9:45, as she was changing to rush to her 10:00 literature class, she got a call from her best friend MacKenzie (Mac), just back from Dartmouth, who pressured her into going to Newport Beach with her for some relaxation. She tried to say no because she didn’t want to ditch her class, but Mac wouldn’t accept it. In fact, Mac was already parked outside ready to scoop up Ali and take her away. So off they went. Mac made no secret of hoping to see a lifeguard she had a crush on, and she was also hoping to get Ali interested in someone at Newport Beach. Ali had never told Mac about the rape, so Mac had no idea why Ali wasn’t interested in dating.
The time at the beach turned out much differently than either of the girls expected. Mike Cortese, a videographer and reporter for Channel 2 TV News, happened to be on the beach. He was filming the gigantic waves, but was hoping to find someone in the water as a visual reference for their size. He had noticed Ali and Mac, who were both very attractive, when they arrived at the beach.
He had also seen two girls who had ignored life guard warnings head into the deep water. They were having trouble making it back to the beach. A third girl was also in danger, separated from the other two. A lifeguard appeared just as Mike was about to jump in, and a second lifeguard was also coming. Mike knew he wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to help much, so he grabbed his camera again and started taping the rescue efforts.
Two of the lifeguards were busy trying to save the two visible girls when Mike spotted the third girl, far from shore, face down in the water. There was no way the lifeguards in the water would reach her in time. Then Mike saw Ali jump in. The author then switches to write in Ali’s voice and follows her thoughts as she almost drowns rescuing that third girl.
When she was just about at the end of her strength, help arrives in the form of a yellow lifeguard vessel. Ali and the rescued girl are finally both gotten aboard and taken to shore to the waiting crowd and medical personnel. Mike had gotten all the action with his video camera, and Ali became the heroine of the day. She did not want the publicity, and wouldn’t give Mike her name. Before she could leave, the sheriff wanted to interview her.
By the time she returned, Mac had already told Mike who she was. She had also told Mike that Ali wanted to be a journalist, and Mike said he might be able to help her — maybe get her an intern position with Channel Two. All Ali really wanted right then was to go home and change and get to the BBQ at her parents’ beach home in Malibu.
Meanwhile, a teenage star in a popular TV series, Jordan French, is reported missing and is later found dead. Ali’s father is put on the case.
Mike keeps his promise to talk to people at his station about an internship for Ali, but her appearance in Mike’s televised report on the rescue has already made Ali well-known. CBS was impressed by her “performance” and hires her as a paid assistant. Her interviewer (later boss) turns out to be a woman with whom Ali’s father had once had an affair. Although the affair is long over, Ali is not thrilled with telling her mother and father about this new position — especially since she dropped out of her classes to take the job so she puts off telling them. This further deteriorates the trust issue with her parents when they do find out, since she made these decisions without talking to them first.
As the book developed, I couldn’t put it down. There is constant conflict between Ali and her parents over Ali’s becoming what her father considers one of the media “scumbags” who interfere with his work. Ali tries to prove to her mother that becoming a journalist is more important to her than her creative writing. Catheryne is convinced Ali’s true talent is in her creative writing, and Ali should put her effort there. Catheryne doesn’t think much of journalism, especially TV journalism. Both parents are upset that Ali has quit school.
Although Ali loves her older brother Travis, who is an extremely talented pianist and composer, she is also jealous of his talent and his relationship with their musically talented mother. Ali loves her parents, too, but always seems to be at odds with them. Everything comes to a head when the family learns that Catheryne has leukemia.
Interwoven in the family drama is the growing relationship between Ali and Mike. Ali is still afraid to trust men. Just as it appears she is about to trust Mike, his “friend” Brent Preston, who actually got Ali her job at CBS, , betrays them both and destroys that trust.
The attempt to find Jordan’s murderer strains Ali’s relationship with her father even more. She is under constant pressure from Brent and her boss at CBS to reveal information on the case that she shouldn’t even know. A couple of leaks in the news threaten Daniel Kane’s job, raising the stress level between father and daughter once more.
I will leave it to you to discover how it all comes together at the end as Catheryn tries hard to cling to her life. Ali, who had the closest match, had donated her bone marrow to Catheryne but it appears the transplant may be rejected. As the family gathers to support Catheryne during the transplant and its aftermath, everyone has to deal with powerful emotions as they realize she is very likely to die. Yet even then, Ali can’t avoid conflict with her mother. The reader is as tense as the family members and also wants Ali to make peace with her mother quickly, before it’s too late.
The book’s characters were people I would enjoy meeting, with one exception — Brent. I have said the least about Brent because it’s really better to form your own conclusions after seeing him in action. All the characters who play major roles are well-developed and will remind you of people you actually know. I’m sure you know someone like Brent — unfortunately.
The twists in the plot will keep you turning the pages. The murder mystery is logically solved and I enjoyed knowing I’d identified the killer early on. The point is well made that even if your prime suspect seems to be guilty, it takes systematic work to prove that guilt and gain a conviction. I appreciate an author who lets me think with the detectives instead of springing a surprise twist on me at the end. I’m looking forward to reading more from Steve Gannon. I hope there is a sequel to Allison (A Kane Novel)