Passenger (Lutz)

The Passenger
Lisa Lutz, 2016
Simon & Schuster
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781451686630

A blistering thriller is about a woman who creates and sheds new identities as she crisscrosses the country to escape her past: you’ll want to buckle up for the ride!

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it...

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.

It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?

With heart-stopping escapes and devious deceptions, The Passenger is an amazing psychological thriller about defining yourself while you pursue your path to survival. One thing is certain: the ride will leave you breathless. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—March 13, 1970
Where—Southern California, USA
Education—attended University of California, Irvine and Santa Cruz - no degree
Awards—Alex Award
Currently—lives in upstate New York

Lisa Lutz is an American author. She began her career writing screenplays for Hollywood. One of her rejected screenplays became the basis for a popular series of novels about a family of private investigators, the Spellmans.

Lutz was born in Southern California in 1970. She attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, University of Leeds in England and San Francisco State University, all without attaining a degree.

During the 1990s she had many low-paying jobs, including work in a private investigation firm, and spent a lot of time writing and re-writing a Mob comedy called Plan B. Her screenplay was optioned in 1997, and was made into a movie in 2000 (released in 2001). Variety Magazine described the movie as "torturously unfunny." She subsequently produced several other tentative screenplays, but none was picked up.

Her final effort, tentatively titled "The Spellman Files," was also rejected. At that point Lutz realized that "the story really needed more space to be told properly," so she decided to write it as a novel.

She began the novel while still living in California in 2004, then decided to move into a relative's family vacation home in upstate New York to work on it full-time. She returned to the west coast, this time to Seattle, Oregon, to write her second Spellman novel, then moved to San Francisco, where she lived until 2012. She presently lives miles from civilization in upstate New York.

Spellman series
Her novel series describes the Spellmans, a family of private investigators, who, while very close knit, are also intensely suspicious and spend much time investigating each other. The first book in the series, The Spellman Files, becomes suspenseful when 14-year-old Rae Spellman is apparently kidnapped.

In 2008 The Spellman Files was nominated for three awards for best first novel—the Anthony Award, Macavity Award, and Barry award. It was also nominated for a Dilys Award. The book, however, did win the Alex Award, and it reached #27 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Her second novel, Curse of the Spellmans, was nominated for a 2009 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for best mystery novel.

Stand alones
All told, Lutz published six Spellman mysteries before stepping outside the genre in 2015 for her first entry into straight fiction, How to Start a Fire. That novel tells the story of four college friends. Three years, in 2016, later she ventured into psychological thriller territory with The Passenger, of which Kirkus Reviews remarked that Lutz, "writes like she's happy to be there."

Other writing
In 2011 Lutz co-wrote—in alternating chapters—the mystery, Heads You Lose, with her then real-life partner David Hayward. She has also written a 2013 childrens' book, How to Negotiate Everything. Her articles and essays have appeared in the Wall Street Journal,, Friction Magazine, and her own blogs, Ask Lutz and Lutz U. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 3/20/2016.)

Book Reviews
Lisa Lutz has written a number of clever comic mysteries about the Spellmans, a family of screwball sleuths. In The Passenger, she steps smartly out of her comfort zone to write a dead-serious thriller (with a funny bone).
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times Book Review

Tanya Dubois [is] the enigmatic heroine of this enjoyable standalone.... While the pacing falters in places and some of the final reveals lack wallop, Lutz’s complex web of finely honed characters will keep readers turning the pages.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) When the answers finally come, they are juicy, complex, and unexpected. The satisfying conclusion will leave readers rethinking everything and immediately turning back to the first page to start again.... [S]mart writing, and rapid pace delivered here. —Emily Byers, Salem P.L., OR
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Binge-worthy fare, especially for those drawn to strong female protagonists.

Lutz's pacing is excellent, and the interior monologue captures what it would be like not to have a name or, even worse, a valid ID..., but at its core, this is a novel about identity: a slippery notion which depends upon both how the world sees us and how we see ourselves.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Did you initially believe Tanya when she states that she had nothing to do with Frank’s death, and that he died simply after a fall down the stairs? How does your perception of Tanya’s innocence or guilt change throughout the course of the novel?

2. Did you find Tanya to be a reliable narrator? At which points in the novel did you trust her account of events, and at which points did you feel she was hiding all or some of the truth?

3. What techniques does the author use to ratchet up the tension and suspense throughout the novel? Discuss specific moments that were unnerving for you as a reader, and how the author kept you on edge. How did the author use humor to lighten the mood periodically?

4. Why does Amelia decide to trust Blue? Do you think that Blue ever trusts Amelia? Would you have trusted Blue if you were in the same position?

5. How much of Blue giving Debra Maze’s identity to Amelia is altruistic, and how much is malicious? Do you believe that Blue’s gift is intended to be a way out or a trap?

6. How do the emails between Ryan and Jo inserted throughout the novel help you to understand their relationship and what happened ten years ago? Why does Jo continue to communicate with Ryan, and why does she seem to trust him?

7. What does each new identity or potential identity represent to Tanya? What does Tanya’s ability to shift identities so easily say about her personality and her motivations, and in what ways does taking on a new identity change her? Discuss in particular the changes Tanya makes to her hair and makeup to make herself alternately more attractive or less attractive, and how these changes make her feel.

8. In Recluse, Wyoming, Debra comes close to making a life for herself as a small-town schoolteacher. What do you think would have happened if Jack Reed hadn’t appeared on her doorstep? Could Debra have ever lived a relatively normal life in Recluse? How do her actions there alter the course of her journey and her self-perception?

9. Violence toward women is a major theme of the novel. What sort of statement is the author making by presenting so many relationships where women have been abused or wronged, and what does it mean for these women to get revenge?

10. Discuss Tanya’s relationships with the men in her life: Frank, Domenic, and Ryan. Is she truly in love with any of them? Who does she reveal herself to, and why? How does Tanya use men and her sexuality to get what she wants?

11. Why does Tanya decide it’s so crucial for her to tell the police about Reginald Lee? Does her attempt to stop Reggie from committing a crime absolve her of any of her own transgressions?

12. Did you feel empathy for Tanya or any of her many alter egos? How did your feelings toward her fluctuate over the course of the novel? Did you ever feel that she went past redemption in your eyes, or did you root for her to succeed?

13. Why does Nora ultimately decide to go home? Were you surprised by what happens when she gets there?

14. What do you think happens to the characters after the novel is over? Do you think Nora will finally find peace?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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