Excerpt Reveal: Desperation Reef by T. Jefferson Parker - Tor/Forge Blog


Excerpt Reveal: Desperation Reef by T. Jefferson Parker

Desperation ReefIn this high-stakes thriller by three-time Edgar Award winner and New York Times bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker, (“A marvel…hits the high-water mark for crime fiction every time out.” —Gregg Hurwitz), a big wave surfer and her sons compete in the same contest that killed her husband many years before.

Jen Stonebreaker hasn’t entered into a big-wave surfing competition since witnessing her husband’s tragic death twenty-five years ago at the Monsters of the Mavericks. Now, Jen is ready to tackle those same Monsters with her twin sons Casey and Brock, who have become competitive surfers in a perilous sport.

When he’s not riding waves, modeling for surfing magazines, or posting viral content for his many fans, Casey Stonebreaker spends his days helping with the family restaurant — catching fish in the morning and bartending at night. Casey’s love for the ocean and his willingness to expose illegal poachers on his platforms puts him on a collision course with a crime syndicate eager to destroy anyone threatening their business.

Outspoken Brock Stonebreaker couldn’t be more different from his twin. The founder of Breath of Life, a church and rescue mission that assists with natural disasters that no one else will touch, Brock has lived an adventurous and sometimes violent life. Not everyone appreciates the work that Brock’s Breath of Life mission accomplishes, and threats to destroy his mission—and his family—swirl around him.

As the big-wave contest draws closer, a huge, late fall swell is headed toward the Pacific coastline. Jen’s fears gnaw at her — fear for herself, for her sons, for what this competition will mean for the rest of her life.

Desperation Reef will be available on July 16th, 2024. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


Hear Jen scream.

Jen Stonebreaker, that is, hollering over the whine of her jet ski, towing her husband into a wave taller than a four-story building.

“For you, John—it’s all yours!”

She’s twenty-one years old, stout and well-muscled, with a cute face, a freckled nose, and an inverted bowl of thick orange hair she’s had since she was ten.

She’s a versatile young woman, too—the high school swim, water polo, and surf team captain. The class valedictorian. A former Miss Laguna Beach. With a UC Irvine degree in creative journalism from the School of Humanities, honors, of course.

Right now, though, Jen is bucking an eight-hundred-pound jet ski on the rising shoulder of a fifty-foot wave, her surf-star husband, John, trailing a hundred feet behind her on his signature orange and black “gun” surfboard, rope handle tied to the rescue sled, which skitters and slaps behind her.

Welcome to Mavericks, a winter break in the cold waters just south of San Francisco, with occasionally gigantic waves, sometimes beautifully formed, but always potentially lethal. These things charge in and hit Mavericks’ shallow reef like monsters from the deep. A surfer can’t just paddle into one; he or she has to be towed in by a jet ski or a helicopter. One of the scariest breaks on Earth. Ask any of the very few people who ride places like this. Not only the jagged, shallow rocks, but sharks, too, and water so cold you can barely feel your feet through neoprene boots.

Mavericks has taken the lives of professional, skilled, big-wave riders.

Riders not unlike the Stonebreakers, Jen now gunning her jet ski across the rising wave, looking for smooth water to deliver John into the steepening face of it, where he will toss the rope and—if all goes well and the gods are smiling—drop onto this wall and try to stay on his board, well ahead of the breaking barrel that, if it gets its chance, will crush him to the rocky bottom like a bathtub toy.

He throws aside the tow rope.

Jen guns her two-hundred-fifty horses, roaring and smoking, up and over the wave’s huge back, and lands momentarily beyond its reach, the rescue sled bobbing behind her.

She’s got a good angle to watch John and help him if he wipes out.

She feels the tremendous tonnage of water trying to suck her back onto the wave and over the falls.

Thinks: Nope.

Throttles hard and away.

Steadies herself on the bucking machine, off to the side and safely out of the way of the monsters, where she can watch John do his thing. The next wave lumbers in—she’s always startled by how fast they are—and she sees John astride his big board, racing down the smooth blue face of his wave, legs staunch but vibrating, feet locked in the thick rubber straps glued to his board. He carves out ahead of the lip then rises, backing up into the barrel, casually trailing a hand on the cylinder as he streams along just ahead of the crushing lip—John’s signature move; he’s one of the few guys who does this daredevil-in-the-barrel thing, looking cool on a fifty-footer. He’s twenty-six years old, one of

the top ten big-wave riders in the world.

Jen hears the barrel roaring closed behind him. Like a freight train or a stretched-out thunderclap.

Jen smiles.

Jen and John. John and Jen.

Look at him, she thinks. This is it. This is why we do it. Nothing we’ll ever do will match it. Not love. Not sex. Not being a mother or a father. Not seeing God. Not mountains of money. Nothing. Nothing can touch this speed, this perilous grace, this joy, this high.

Then it all goes wrong.

The thick lip lunges forward like a leopard, taking him by the head and off his board.

The sharp orange-and-black gun hangs in the air above him, the leash still fastened to John’s ankle, then the fins catch and the board spears past John, missing him by inches.

He’s lifted high above the ribs of the wave, then pitched over the falls, pulled down by his board, into the raging impact zone.

Jen checks the next wave—well fuck, it’s bigger than this one—then steers the jet ski closer to the wall of whitewater that owns her husband. A bright red rescue helicopter swoops down, close enough to tear foam off the crest of that wave.

Two rescue skis cut wide semicircles around the impact zone, their drivers looking for a way in.

And two more of the tow ski drivers, bucking the chop in search of John.

The seconds zip by but John doesn’t surface. His broken board launches from the whitewater, just two halves hinged by fiberglass. No leash attached. Which, in spite of John’s quick-release coupling, could mean the absolute worst for him—the damned leash is still fastened to his ankle, virtually unbreakable, easily caught on the sharp reef boulders lurking just feet below the surface.

Jen watches for any flash of shape or color, his black trunks, his orange helmet—anything that’s not whitewater, swirling sand, and rocks. Anything . . .

She knows with the wave closing fast behind her it’s time to plunge into the mayhem.

Feels the monster pull of it drawing her up.

Circling tightly, checking the rescue sled, getting ready to go in, she pauses one fraction of a second and thinks—among darker thoughts: I love you more than anything in the world . . .

And in that split second, the next wave lifts her from behind and Jen feels the terrible vertigo of a coming fall while clinging to an eight- hundred-pound personal watercraft.

Her personal deathtrap.

She cranks the ski throttle full open, digs a hard U-turn into the face of the wave. Jumps the lip and flies over.

She’s midair again on the smoking contraption. Below her, no John in sight. Just his shattered board bouncing in the foam on its way to shore.

She lands behind the wave and speeds a wide arc to something like safety. Rooster-tails to near where John went down. Can’t get all that close.

She’s lost precious time. Precious seconds. A lot of them.

She grinds through the whitewater as best she can, crisscrossing the worst of it. A surge of heavy foam catches the jet ski broadside and flips it. She keeps hold, lets another wall of whitewater crash over her before she can find the handles, right the beast, and continue searching her blinding world of foam and spray.

Smacked by the chop and wind, she clamps her teeth and grimaces to draw air instead of brine.

In shallower water, she searches the rocks below. Hears the scream of the other watercrafts around her, voices calling out. The big-wave people mostly look out for each other; they’re loose-knit and competitive but most of them will lose contests and miss waves to help someone in trouble—even of his own making, even some reckless trust-funder wannabe big-wave king with his own helicopter to tow him in and pro videographers to make him famous.

It’s what watermen and waterwomen do.

Jen keeps waiting to feel him behind her, climbing aboard the rescue sled. She knows it’s possible: John has trained himself to hold his breath for up to three minutes underwater.

But not being pounded like this . . .

As the minutes pass, hope and fear fight like dogs inside her—a battle that will guide the rest of her life.

We are small and brief.

We are the human passion to stay alive, made simple.

She helps work John’s body out of the rocks.

Click below to pre-order your copy of Desperation Reef, available July 16th, 2024!

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