Jump Cut by Libby Fischer Hellmann

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Jump Cut cover

In Jump Cut, Chicago-based thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann brings her outspoken heroine Ellie Foreman back for another exciting adventure after a 10-year hiatus. In the new book, video producer Foreman and her team have been hired to produce a series of puff pieces about ginormous Delcroft Aviation, which is based in Chicago just like Boeing.

Her project is going well until a client meeting to review a rough cut, when Delcroft vice president and director of engineering Charlotte Hollander, unexpectedly tears into the video, the project, and Ellie herself. Given the vehemence of Hollander’s reaction, the suits around the table have no choice but to postpone further work, and in short order they cancel Ellie’s contract altogether. I particularly liked Ellie’s feisty sense of humor which (almost) never fails her, and this is one of those times.

She struggles to figure out what caused Hollander’s over-the-top reaction. When Ellie rewatches the footage, she realises the appearance of a man named Gregory Parks seemed to be the trigger. She’d noticed Parks herself, hanging around the Delcroft booth at a trade show, and he’d plied her for information. They traded business cards. Disturbed at losing this lucrative client and hoping to figure out what went wrong, Ellie calls him and he agrees to talk with her. Just before he’s to meet her near a Chicago station, he is killed by a train. Suicide, the authorities say. Ellie suspects otherwise.

And she may have the evidence. In the confusion after Parks’s death, she picked up a Marlboro box from the train platform – recognising it as the dead man’s brand – and in it found a 16GB flash drive. It becomes an important MacGuffin in the plot. She knows she should turn it over to the police, but throughout the book, she’s worried about her reputation and her career. On one hand, if the Delcroft executives learn she’s been consorting with someone they think was a corporate spy, her professional goose will be cooked. On the other hand, if the drive contains corporate secrets, maybe she can return it to the company and come out a hero. Maybe. However, the idea that her her business concerns would outride her own safety, security and family isn’t quite convincing.

As the plot unfolds, that flash drive becomes a magnet attracting some very violent types, sent to retrieve it. When Ellie realises she’s being watched – apparently by more than one entity – she finally decides to tell the police and the FBI most of what’s happened, but leaves out a key fact. With Ellie’s situation becoming more and more perilous, knowing whom to trust will be her biggest ongoing challenge.

With its up-to-the-minute subject matter involving sophisticated surveillance, secret drone projects, quasi-political assassination and international intrigue, Jump Cut is a timely, fast-paced read. The plot relies on a couple of shaky coincidences, such as being on hand when Parks dies and finding the flash drive in the first place. And it includes the typical device of not spilling to the authorities when every bone of the reader’s body is screaming, “Tell them! Now!”

Hellman writes in a breezy, easy-to-read style that helps you gloss over minor plot quibbles. Ellie’s close and believable relationships with boyfriend Luke, daughter Rachel, and dad Jake provide a warm counterpoint to the terrifying situation in which she finds herself. Ultimately, however, the writing style is a jarring contrast to the book’s bleak take on the modern zeitgeist, in which the killing of innocent people is seen as an acceptable and inevitable part of war – collateral damage.

A prologue recounts the death of a nine-year-old Muslim boy in a dusty rural country on the far side of the world. We don’t hear another word about him until the epilogue, and then only obliquely, as a mother laments the loss of her two children. Not until then do we know who he is and who his sister is. And that’s exactly what their deaths have been: collateral damage.

The Red Herrings Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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