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‘The Passenger’: A kiddie ride of thrillers

Let’s get one thing straight: Lisa Lutz is a phenomenal writer. With a nomination for the ALA Alex Award and Macavity Award for the Spellman Files series to boot, she dances with that show-don’t-tell poise few people can rival, an adroit pen in her pen to sensationalize each experience of the protagonist. Sure, moderation might be a tad absent with Lutz’s abundance of idioms, similes, and personifications go, but that’s not to say that the author convolutes the chain of identity thefts and murder with an “abuse” of literary devices that are pivotal to comprehension in her most recent novel.

Books don’t gain traction with writing alone though. The fated romance between Hazel and Gus, the sui generis magic and surreal atmosphere of Hogwarts, the dystopia in the sacrilegious murder of minors in the Hunger Games:  whether it be through immersive fantasies or a love story with an unexpected twist, success is still contingent on a plot that grasps a reader’s attention, which is where “The Passenger” falls short.

Her idea sounds brilliant when you only have the overview (widowed wife Tanya attempts to escape her husband’s death by changing her name and appearance, companioned only by blood, lust, and a car before surrendering to the destiny of her true identity).

Don’t be fooled. “The Passenger” was founded on a two-sentence pitch and its plot feels just as underdeveloped, teeming with logistics and blasé emotion to weigh down the seemingly-riveting novel.

Between almost each name change – excruciatingly, there are seven – lies a process that turns this “thriller” into pure tedium. The protagonist either searches the obituaries to inhabit the identity of the deceased or coincidentally stumbles upon a name that pertains to Tanya’s description, spending what feels like an eternity searching for an establishment to squat afterwards and incessantly complaining about the hardships of living without a job.

Still, give credit where it’s due; Lutz avoids elementary plot holes by the keeping track of how limited Tanya’s resources and funds are. This painstaking, repetitive cycle, however, will set you to sleep before the story gives you a reason to stay awake flipping through the pages avidly after the initial burst of excitement dies along with Frank.

Tanya’s “internal struggle” with murder, if you can even call it that, additionally fails to distinguish Lutz’s attempt at thriller. Maybe that’s why “The Passenger” never achieved that New York Times Bestseller status associated with the Spellman Files series. The main character skims the aftereffects of one’s first murder, barely devoting more than a paragraph to the internal shattering and rewiring that results, the metamorphosis that translates the shift in mentality to a tangible physical change.

Being on the other side of the barrel doesn’t even dynamize Tanya, a last resort, not a choice that enables the character to change as an individual. Her return to Bilman, Washington, appears in the same suit; Tanya can only muster the courage to face the bleak reality of her past in the only scenario when it becomes a necessity: backed into a corner, with no funds and, therefore, no means to survive.

Of course, the main focus of thrillers is not to develop characters for the audience to find some philosophical insight. It’s to create a rollercoaster, readers on the edge of their seat and engaged with every page turn.

But “The Passenger” fails to create the ride people expect, instead filled with spells of monotony that disrupt the momentum of the plot and bury any possibility of tapping into the potential that the story originally had in its formative stages.

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