Delphine Pontvieux’s ETA: Estimated Time of Arrest is a sharp, fast-moving, intelligent novel that is equal parts thriller and romance. When Faustine Laroche falls for Rafael Vargas, she has no way of knowing about the past that he’s running from. Years earlier, he participated in a march against the Spanish government that went horribly wrong. Now, living in exile under an assumed name, Vargas is a wanted criminal — and the terrorist organization that helped him escape from Spanish authorities is calling in the favor. What follows is a (literally) explosive adventure that signals the debut of an impressive new talent in Pontvieux and also an impressive first outing for publisher Miss Nyet Publishing.
The characters in ETA are well-rounded and grounded in history — recent history to be sure — and Pontvieux has certainly done her homework to recreate life in the French Pyrenees Mountains in the mid-1990s. Yet where Pontvieux’s writing comes especially alive is in her description of the mountains themselves, and of the mountaineers who climb them. The author’s love of climbing is apparent throughout the book, particularly given her almost poetic descriptions of the hardware involved: “Rafael opened his backpack and retrieved a long purple climbing rope, two harnesses and a faded blue nylon string holding a wide assortment of carabiners and other strange contraptions. To Faustine, they all looked like twisted torture devices.” Needless to say, Faustine quickly falls in love with these devices (along with the man who wields them), and soon enough discovers the exquisite torture of romance as well.
As good as (if not better than) any thriller on the mainstream market, ETA is, appropriately, full of twists and turns, but it never loses sight of the human element that makes works of fiction so compelling. It is that rare gem of a suspense novel that serves not only as a page-turner, but also as a hopeful reminder that for all of our flaws and crimes, we are all viable candidates for redemption.