“The Rocky Mountains have cast their spell over the Courtlands, a young family from the plains taking a last summer vacation before their daughter begins college. For eighteen-year-old Caitlin, the mountains loom as the ultimate test of her runner’s heart, while her parents hope that so much beauty, so much grandeur, will somehow repair a damaged marriage. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic, as suddenly this family find themselves living the kind of nightmare they’ve only read about in headlines or seen on TV.
As their world comes undone, the Courtlands are drawn into a vortex of dread and recrimination. Why weren’t they more careful? What has happened to their daughter? Is she alive? Will they ever know? Caitlin’s disappearance, all the more devastating for its mystery, is the beginning of the family’s harrowing journey down increasingly divergent and solitary paths until all that continues to bind them together are the questions they can never bring themselves to ask: At what point does a family stop searching? At what point will a girl stop fighting for her life?
Written with a precision that captures every emotion, every moment of fear, as each member of the family searches for answers, Descent is a perfectly crafted thriller that races like an avalanche toward its heart-pounding conclusion, and heralds the arrival of a master storyteller.”
Thoughts: From the very first scene, as picturesque and peaceful as it appears to be, there is an undercurrent of tension and foreboding that morphs the gorgeous descriptions from something beautiful and majestic to something wild and unpredictable. This proves to be the theme for the rest of the novel. Mostly taking place in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the backdrop befits the Courtlands’ experiences upon Caitlin’s disappearance. Sinister and yet breathtaking, the mountains symbolize mankind’s behavior towards one another; this duality of mankind makes itself known over and over again throughout the novel.
Descent is the type of novel in which one could expound upon the plot without giving away key moments. One could discuss the characters at length and barely touch on their complexity and depth. One could even analyze the emotional elements, of which there are many. However, to do any of that in a review would be to set future readers’ expectations or cause them to anticipate certain behaviors or actions. This would only diminish one’s reading enjoyment and cause disappointment for a novel that deserves none. To experience the full power of a novel like Descent, one must go into it cold, with no set expectations or ideas of what happens outside of the basic plot as given in the synopsis. Only then can a reader fully appreciate the scope of the novel and everything Mr. Johnston achieves within its pages.
To put it simply, Descent is a powerful novel. Mr. Johnston captures all of the turmoil and determination of a desperate family. He then layers onto it the full gamut of human experience, showcasing the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world. Just when one thinks the story cannot get any bleaker or more intense, he teases readers with hope. Descent is a thriller of the best kind not only because of the action and suspense but because of the emotional drama underlying it all.