Attorney Douglas Schofield’s Debut Novel, ‘Flight Risks’: A Realistic Page-Turner With Delicious Twists
Grace Palliser—legal secretary, recovering addict, and divorced mother who lost custody of her daughter—is the focal character in Douglas Schofield’s novel ‘Flight Risks’. Clearly, she’s a woman with a past, but when she uncovers a plot to make false claims on dormant accounts of Holocaust victims, the question becomes: does she have a future?
Murder, abduction, spying, international terrorists, and plot twists are the key ingredients in the thriller genre. But first-time author Douglas Schofield has thrown in several other twists to give ‘Flight Risks’, his new novel, broad appeal.
The first twist is the central figure. Generally the menaced woman in a thriller is saved, as well as romanced, by the protagonist—a capable, intelligent, courageous man, who is often a spy, a detective, or a law enforcement officer. Schofield has turned that right around, making the menaced woman, Grace Palliser, the protagonist, and giving her the drinking problem that is more commonly associated with the hard-bitten detective or spy. Her connection with the law and justice is still there, but, as a legal secretary, her adversarial dealings are more often with the keyboard and the photocopier than international felons and hardened murderers. And the viewpoint of a legal secretary allows Schofield to draw on his extensive background as a trial lawyer for the inner workings of a law office, trial scenes, and criminal activity.
Grace is haunted by the murder-suicide of her parents and a failed romance with Myles Rothwell, a Florida attorney, who is ex-Navy, ex-ATF, and ex-assistant district attorney and who had to just say no to Grace’s addiction issues. Then there’s her daughter, her ex-husband, his live-in girlfriend, and the hints that she may not quite have her addictions beat.
The second twist, which follows from the first, is the setting. No scenes from New York, London, Switzerland, or Lebanon with this protagonist, although they all have their place in the plot. After a brief prologue, the scene shifts to an ordinary day in the life of what seems like an ordinary woman in an ordinary city in British Columbia. Parking her car in a suburban driveway is Grace Palliser, arriving to pick up her five-year-old daughter, Shy, from the home of Grace’s ex-husband, who now has primary custody. Schofield unfolds character, as mother and daughter enjoy their weekend, visit Grace’s office, and receive a business client at Grace’s home.
The third twist is the plot. The conflict that is most on Grace’s mind as the book opens is her custody battle, and that and her battle with addiction are the biggest challenges in her life. As a legal secretary in British Columbia, Grace has not been involved in high-stakes, high-risk deals, intrigues, and conspiracies, at least not as the story begins. But this soon changes as it becomes clear that her boss has suspicions about something big, something that he refuses to share with Grace in order to protect her. When Grace begins an investigation of her own, her boss warns her to “stop playing Nancy Drew.” But a plot development drops the investigation in her lap, as well as making her a fugitive from not only the Canadian police but also the FBI.
The plot both affects and reveals character. As she faces false accusations, the threat of death, and international intrigue, Grace reveals intelligence, courage, imagination, and verve. She turns to Myles, not for romance, but for help, as she flees for her life, and even without a promise of aid, she entrusts her future to him. But when two people love each other and one is in desperate trouble, the possibility that they might rekindle what they once had simmers.
The fourth twist is Schofield’s style. The thriller genre does not always offer readers prose that is worthy of their attention. But by the second paragraph, ‘Flight Risks’ reveals writing that makes it possible to read this book for more than the characters and plot points:
“On either side of the dual ribbons of asphalt, a sere, bone-dry landscape sifted past. Flat. Unchanging. Mindnumbing.”
This is ‘onomatopoetic’ writing—a feature more often found in poetry and literature. Shifting the verb towards the end of the sentence allows a long ribbon of description to precede it. As a fictional vehicle travels, exterior landscape is often described as having ‘slid’ past, but Schofield uses the drier ‘sifted’ to match the parched, barren land that the travelers view. The one-word “sentences” that follow help recreate for the reader the feeling they describe.
With this set of twists—with this protagonist and this plot and this mastery of prose—it’s no wonder that Schofield’s novel brings on the thrills and chills and packs an emotional punch. “ Anyone who enjoys a suspense-filled page-turner, with gut-wrenching twists and turns and an unlikely but utterly compelling heroine is going to love this story,” says Schofield.And for those who find themselves hooked, a sequel, ‘Day of Grace’, is in the works.
‘Flight Risks’is published in paperback by Miwk Publishing, in the United Kingdom, and in eBook format by eBookIt.com, and is now available from popular online retailers, including Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and Apple’s iBookstore.