A teen tries to survive adolescence - and a pair of killers

Michael Koryta’s latest novel skillfully melds a thrilling adventure story set against the Montana wilderness with a poignant coming-of-age story. Those Who Wish Me Dead moves at a brisk pace as Koryta weaves in themes of redemption, survival and grief to illustrate how ethical choices can reverberate.

Teen Jace Wilson is spending the afternoon jumping in the pool of an abandoned quarry near his Indiana home when he witnesses two men in police uniforms drag a man to the quarry and kill him. Jace escapes but leaves behind his identification and clothes, which the men find. To keep him safe, former U.S. marshal turned security expert Jamie Bennett places Jace in a Montana wilderness training program for troubled teens run by survival expert Ethan Serbin.

Ethan doesn’t know which of the seven boys in the program is Jace. Witness protection doubling as wilderness training is a logical idea for Ethan, who found his own salvation in the woods when he was on the path to becoming a juvenile delinquent. The self-confidence survival skills had given him and the teens in his charge translate into any situation, rural or urban, but those skills will be tested when the two killers make their way into the wilderness.

Koryta’s vivid Montana landscape scenes pulsate with the smells and sounds of the great outdoors. His three-dimensional characters realistically explore the choices they are forced to make as the author keeps the plot twisting with believable turns. As he matures in this high-stakes situation, Jace retains the persona of a teenager, and even the killers, with their odd speaking patterns and creepy stares, are frighteningly real.

Oline H. Cogdill reviewed this book for the Associated Press.