One Breath Away, Paperback
4 out of 5 (6 ratings)


'He has a gun.' 'Who? Tell me, where are you? Who has a gun?' 'I love you, Mum.' An ordinary school day in March, snowflakes falling, classroom freezing, kids squealing with delight, locker-doors slamming.

Then the shooting started. No-one dared take one breath...He's holding a gun to your child's head.

One wrong answer and he says he'll shoot. This morning you waved goodbye to your child. What would you have said if you'd known it might be the last time?

Praise for Heather Gudenkauf 'A great thriller, probably the kind of book a lot of people would chose to read on their sun loungers.

It will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult' - Radio Times 'Deeply moving and exquisitely lyrical, this is a powerhouse of a debut novel' - Tess Gerritsen 'Beautifully written, compassionately told, and relentlessly suspenseful' - Diane Chamberlain


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin (UK)
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Thriller / suspense
  • ISBN: 9781848451322


Free Home Delivery

on all orders

Pick up orders

from local bookshops


Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.

  Previous  |  Next

Review by

Set amid a snowy March backdrop, this is Heather Gudenkauf's third novel. I really enjoy her writing which reminds me so much of Jodi Picoult's in it's style.The book begins with Holly, who is lying in a hospital bed in Revelation, Arizona, recovering from serious burns from a house fire. Her daughter Augie and son PJ have been sent away to stay with their maternal grandparents in Broken Branch, Iowa, whilst Holly is hospitalised. Holly receives a terrifying phone call from Augie telling her she is holed up in their school and a mad man with a gun is holding them and some other children hostage.Fast paced, the story, which is told from five different perspectives, brings the clever plotline together. Holly's is obviously told from a distance and we learn of her strict uprbringing which alienated her from her father. She never wanted to return to Broken Branch and is distraught that her children have been sent there. Augie's story is central to the plot and she shows a maturity beyond her years in her care of her half brother and school friends. Will, Holly's father, ponders on what the world is coming to and despite the fact he hasn't spoken to his daughter in fifteen years, before the fire which destroys her home, his uncharacteristic care and concern is touching. Meg, a local police officer tells her tale from the law enforcement angle and my favourite character is Mrs Oliver, PJ's class teacher.....way over retirement age....but loves her calling so much that she can't bear to leave her children, she is one gutsy woman.The identity of the gunman, much speculated on, remains a mystery until right at the end and I didn't see it coming.The chapters are short...which makes this a quick and highly enjoyable read. A good one to pack in your suitcase if you are chasing the sun....sadly gone AWOL in the UK this year!

Review by

I've read and enjoyed both of Heather Gudenkauf's previous books, and so I was really looking forward to One Breath Away. I wasn't disappointed. The story takes place over the course of one day in Broken Branch, Iowa, where a gunman has entered the school and taken a class of children and their teacher hostage. The chapters are very short and each one is told from the point of view of different characters. This is a very effective way of keeping the tension going and enables the reader to see it from all angles.The nice short chapters means it's a very easy book to read and it's fast-moving. The author writes very well in the vein of Diane Chamberlain and Jodi Picoult, so if you like their books then you will enjoy this one.

Review by

As I was reading this book I kept thinking "This would make an awesome movie", not because of the way it was written but because the suspense makes one want to keep turning the pages. There is a gunman in the school. a school in a rural area that holds grades K-12, and the school goes on lock down. This is not another Columbine though, the shooter is there for a specific purpose and for a specific person. The who and the why are the big questions and the story is related by four different narrators. It is from these narrators that we learn the back stories of the people involved and the clues that lead to the shooters identity. My favorite character was the third grade teacher in the room that the shooter appropriates for his contact. Her old school ethics, she has been a teacher for many years and is dedicated to her students, reminded me so of my own teacher in that grade. This is not a great book but it is an extremely good and suspenseful one, one that will hold the reader's interest until the very end. ARC from NetGalley.

Review by

This book cannot be accused of taking things slow, One Breath Away immediately throws the reader into the heart of the action. On page one we are confronted with a bed-bound mother, receiving the phone call all parents dread, her thirteen year old daughter on the phone telling her that there is a gunman in her classroom. From this running start, Heather Gudenkauf does not let up; the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride though this nightmare scenario, the short chapters helping create pace. This was literally a book I could not put down, starting reading it at 8am and finishing it before 12.In the style of Jodi Picoult in My Sister’s Keeper, the story is told by several different characters: Holly – the mother, Augie – the daughter, Mrs Oliver – the teacher, Meg – the police officer and Will – Holly’s father. This gives a wonderful emotional varity to the book, as you look on the situation from a number of perspectives. I was originally concerned that with so many characters telling the story it would be hard to follow or I would find it difficult to get to know all the characters (like Julia in My Sister’s Keeper) but this was not the case. Not once did I have to check which character was speaking and the back story was so wonderfully woven into the narrative of each character that you easily got to know the characters. Apart from the first chapter, Gudenkauf avoids using a non-linear timeline – which also helps to allow the reader to get to know the characters and follow the story.The characters are believable throughout, helped by how the author acknowledges their faults and weaknesses. I especially connected with Mrs Oliver, the grade-school teacher, and was moved to tears by the love she had for her students, and her love for her husband, whom she imagines speaking to her for much of the novel. Also impressive was the way the plot deviated from the typical school-shooter plot – there was no depressed and angry teenager, instead the identity of the shooter came as a complete surprise. It was also refreshing to see a small rural town not being portrayed as being full of hicks, with an inept police department. No predictability here.Overall, an engrossing, well conceived story told in a beautiful and compassionate way, with great characterisation. Having never having read Heather Gudenkauf before, she is now a must-read author for me and I look forward to checking out her previous work. Highly recommended for fans of authors such as Jodi Picoult or for those who prefer more ‘cosy’, but emotional thrillers.

Review by

In a small town in Iowa, a gunman walks into a school during a snowstorm. He sets himself up in a classroom and calmly takes control. Outside, the policeforce mobilise, but due to the poor weather their numbers are small and extra reinforcements are not available. Anxious parents also gather. Inside the school, 12 year old Augie worries about her younger brother, trapped in the gunman's classroom. No one knows who the gunman is or what he wants.The book unfolds over the course of a single day and chapters move between the perspective of five characters: Augie, her mother Holly (in hospital in Arizona), her grandfather Will, Mrs Oliver (a teacher inside the school) and Meg, one of the policemen. The chapters are short - usually a few pages, sometimes only as a paragraph or two.I read most of the book in one setting so I suppose that suggests I loved it, but the truth is that I found it pretty slow going. There is not a lot of action and not a lot of suspense (though it does ramp up somewhat towards the end). There are a lot of back stories that have only negligible - if any - connection to the main plot. Most of it is treading water as the children wait for something to happen and the police on the outside try to identify the gunman. I know that there are many rapturous reviews out there but honestly, I didn't feel it. Heather Gudenkauf is compared to Jodi Picoult, but having recently read The Storyteller, I didn't feel that this book was nearly as complex or absorbing. It's okay, but that's all.

  Previous  |  Next