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Likely Stories - The Ascent

Hello. My name is Douglas Henry, Dean of the Honors College at Baylor University.

For this week's Likely Stories, I'll be discussing The Ascent. A gripping new thriller, the debut novel of Adam Plantinga.

Two decades a beat cop, he knows firsthand the gritty reality of criminal violence and law enforcement. The Ascent introduces us to protagonist Kurt Argento, a Detroit policeman whose life has come unraveled personally and professionally. But Argento’s moral compass remains intact and compels him to act when bad people do bad things.

The novel gives us both kinds of bad. For starters, a pedophile and his crooked sheriff brother land Argento behind bars when he intervenes to save a young girl. In the absence of a functioning county jail, he’s put in weekend lockup in a nearby maximum-security prison. Overkill? Yes. Setup for heart-thumping thriller? You bet.

Joining Argento is a graduate student studying criminal justice—in fact the governor’s daughter—who is on a tour of the prison when its security system wonks out. With prisoners loose and outside communication cut off, Argento teams up with Julie’s protective detail to get her to safety.

Safety requires an ascent—up six floors and to the roof to call for help. Their escape hints at Dante’s Inferno, but inverted. Dante descends into deepening evil, but as Argento ascends, inhumanity grows uglier. On the first floor, property crime, then assault, sexual violence, gangs and organized crime, with capital offenses on the top floor. Each next higher floor brings death defying challenges and horrifying losses.

Argento is a tortured soul, yet the combination of keeping Julie alive and fending off inhumanity stirs something in him. By confronting criminal despair and indifference to life, he sees the darkness within his own soul. He moves from apathy to troubled recognition that his life might just matter in ways he’d forgotten.

Julie is the reason for Argento’s heroics. She has her own complicated inner life. Privileged and protected, she wants to stand on her own two feet. But staying alive requires more than standing; for the first time in her life, she must fight. Julie discovers life’s fragility alongside her own character.

The Ascent is a thriller I couldn’t put down. But it’s not just about riding a dramatic rollercoaster, full of exhilarating ups and downs. It’s worthwhile reading because of compelling characters who grapple with the demons without and those within.

We’ll see more books from Adam Plantinga, so don’t miss your chance to read The Ascent, catch this new novelist early, and watch his star rise.

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Douglas Henry is Dean of the Honors College at Baylor University. With a Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt and a love for great literature, he’s taught students of all ages everything from Homer’s Iliad to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. He has made Waco home for over 20 years, and is deeply engaged in the local community, showing the usefulness of philosophy for life by developing a small pocket neighborhood, The Cloister at Cameron Park, and helping to launch Waco’s wonderful community bookshop, Fabled Bookshop & Cafe.