Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: Cascadia By H.W. "Buzz" Bernard

Cover image from Amazon.com.  A link to this novel on their site is here.

Cascadia is the new thriller from author and Oregon native H.W. “Buzz” Bernard, a former weather officer with the U.S. Air Force for over 30 years, and a senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel for 13 years.  Since publication of his debut novel Eyewall in 2011, Bernard has released a total of five thriller novels, with Cascadia being the latest, slated for release in July of 2016.

Bernard’s latest novel is based on the premise of a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami striking in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The central character, Dr. Rob Elwood, is a successful geologist who has suddenly become haunted by very explicit and repetitive nightmares of a massive earthquake tsunami obliterating the coastline of the northwestern U.S. during the busy Independence Day Weekend.  Despite being a scientist who relies on hard facts, Rob cannot help but feel that he has received some kind of supernatural premonition that a 500-year “big one” is going to strike. He struggles with the decision of whether to make this ‘prophecy’ he may have been given public in the hopes of saving innocent lives, though putting his career at risk on the one hand, or keeping his visions to himself and possibly allowing untold numbers of people to die needlessly if it indeed comes true on the other.  In addition to his inner conflicts, Rob clashes with his family, his colleagues, and local officials about his decision.

Intertwined with Rob’s story are those of two other men: one a down-on-his-luck Vietnam veteran named Neahkahnie Johnny, who may have stumbled on the solution to a centuries-old puzzle which may finally turn his life around, and the other is Shack, a retired military pilot who has made a trip to Oregon to make right a wrong he committed long ago when he was a self-absorbed young flyboy.  The potential for a massive earthquake and tsunami in the Cascadia Subduction Zone carries with it the potential to forever change the lives of Rob, Johnny, Shack, and everyone living in the Pacific Northwest.  There are so many great parts to Cascadia that I would like to share, but at the risk of spoiling the plot, I will leave to the reader to check out the details.

Cascadia is a great showcase  for Buzz Bernard’s background in environmental science and his talent for writing thrillers.  It is clear that he put a great deal of time and research into making Cascadia as scientifically accurate as possible.  He expertly weaves scientific information into the story without detracting from the plot, and his characters are immediately relatable.  Bernard’s descriptions of the terrain of the coastal Pacific Northwest virtually transport the reader there, and his action sequences are terrific. A series of scenes involving Rob in his small airplane is especially riveting, and kept me up reading much later than I had planned.  His pacing of the story is excellent. There were no slow sections that made me want to skip forward at any point in the novel.

A few things held me back from giving Cascadia a full five stars. To be frank, I did find a few aspects of the story to be a bit ‘out there’ compared to the rest of the novel, particularly Rob’s willingness to take such huge professional risks based on nothing more than a series of dreams, and the appearance of a mysterious woman named Cassie at various points in the story. There were a few times when I found that that Bernard’s characters’ speaking patterns did not sound natural in places. For example, the occasional placement of mid-sentence dependent clauses came across to me sounding more like something a person would write, as opposed to something they would say. I also thought that Bernard had a tendency to occasionally wax a bit too eloquent in his physical descriptions. 

With memories of the massive December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean that claimed nearly a quarter million lives still relatively fresh, Cascadia is a novel that can really set the reader on edge, especially if they or someone they know lives near the ocean.  In Cascadia, Buzz Bernard has successfully done what the author of a good thriller does: exploits the possible and makes the reader wonder ‘what if’.  I love a good disaster novel, and this one did not disappoint.  Fun, exhilarating and informative, Cascadia is well-worth your time.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary advance copy of Cascadia in exchange for my honest, unbiased review. I am not connected with the Buzz Bernard, his representation, or his publisher Bell Bridge Books in any way, and I did not receive any monetary gain from this review.