Aubrey Sentro boasts a long and impressive career as a Black Ops specialist, first for the U.S. government, and now for a private contractor. Over all those years, she’s taken many blows, oftentimes suffering head injuries. Not willing to give up her career, Aubrey struggles to complete dangerous missions while dealing with serious gaps in her memory. At times, those lapses are merely annoying – forgetting someone’s name in a social situation, for example. But when lives are on the line, quick recall is crucial.
Aubrey’s latest mission nearly goes sideways when she forgets the hotel room number for the kidnap victim she’s hired to rescue. She manages to recover, saving the victim and killing the woman who drugged him. Returning to work at Solomon Systems for a morning briefing, she’s advised to take a much needed vacation. At first she resists, but then decides to take an ocean voyage on a cargo ship, the Jeddah, something she’s read about and thinks would be a needed respite without encountering crowds of rowdy vacationers. When the ship is hijacked by pirates, Aubrey must save others by using her physical skills while keeping her mental demons at bay.
As the family bread winner, Aubrey spent little time at home raising her two children, Jenny, and Jeremy, leaving that responsibility to her husband, Dennis. The secrecy of her missions meant her children never really understood her absences and were left to fill in the blanks. Was their mother having affairs? Tending to a second family? After Dennis dies from cancer, Aubrey’s efforts to restore relationships with her two adult children become difficult. Jeremy agrees to occasional lunches where his attempts to elicit information from his mother usually fails. (That CIA training is useful.) Jenny refuses to speak to her, even over the phone, so text messages are exchanged, though infrequently.
While Aubrey’s brain specialist (one she sees outside of her network, so as not to alert her co-workers), delivers dire news about her prognosis – “it’s typically degenerative” – she refuses to tell anyone about her condition, not her employer and, of course, not her children. Jeremy, perhaps the more perceptive of her children, is quick to jump when she forgets. “I broke up with her two years ago,” Jeremy tells his mother after she inquires about his girlfriend.
Communication between Aubrey and her children is so fraught that she neglects to tell them she’s taking a vacation. When her absence is noticed, Jenny does call, reaching her mother when the ship docks in Savannah. That will be the last time Jenny or Jeremy hear from her, then they are told by the authorities that the Jeddah has been hijacked and their mother is missing.
Modern day pirates attacking cargo ships is so commonplace that insurance companies have a routine system for handling the ransoms. Crews and passengers may be held but are usually released when the money is delivered. Aubrey, however, quickly sizes up the pirates overtaking the Jeddah and knows they are dangerous amateurs who will kill at the slightest provocation. Pauly and Coster Zeme are twins looking for a big score after the last one ended in failure. And they can’t quite believe that what stands in their way is a woman, a well-trained killing machine leaving bodies in her wake and threatening their whole operation.
While Aubrey battles pirates in the present, she continues to go back in time to past missions, particularly one in Mexico that may have ended badly. The pieces never quite come together and she’s haunted by what she did and what more she could have done to change the outcome. One memory that remains vivid for Aubrey: how her mother died, a gruesome tragedy that continues to define her life.
Daniel Pyne has created a fascinating character. Aubrey is Wonder Woman without super powers. Instead she must rely on her training and instincts when confronting danger. She’s one of the best at what she does, but must be better than her male co-workers, her every misstep harshly judged. She’s a mother but not maternal (we learn why as her story unfolds), and her training, to keep everything close to the vest, means she is hesitant to open up, even to her children. Her memory lapses will resonate with many readers.
Daniel Pyne has written four other novels and many screenplays, including for Pacific Heights, Doc Hollywood, and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. Water Memory would make a terrific film, bringing another female protagonist to the big screen. Dare we hope? Hillary Swank?
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