JUST as all that King Midas touched turned to gold so almost every book that Nicholas Sparks writes seems destined for the big screen.
Six novels, The Last Song, Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and The Notebook, have already been adapted into major films and now his superb romantic thriller The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling, is due to hit British cinemas on May 4.
Full of simmering tensions and red-hot passions, it’s a story steeped in high emotion and human drama; a moving love affair played out against a backdrop of menace, mystery and the shadow of war.
Sparks has become the darling of women’s fiction (perhaps even a guilty pleasure for male readers too) and it’s easy to see why. His Hardyesque stories feature full-on collisions between happiness and tragedy, often bearing witness to the coincidences that can change people’s lives forever.
American to the core, this tale of an Iraqi war veteran searching for the woman he believes has saved him from certain death is unashamedly sentimental in its vision but has a thread of pragmatism and dry humour running through which lends it a welcome air of cynical charm.
Set in the heat and humidity of North Carolina, Sparks’ atmospheric novel unfolds through a triple narrative and brings to vivid life the claustrophobic and insular intensity of one of the USA’s southernmost states.
Is there really such a thing as a good luck charm? Former US Marine Logan Thibault is convinced he just might have found one.
During his third tour of duty in Iraq, he chanced across a photograph of a smiling young woman. It was half-buried in the dirt and his first instinct was to toss it aside but instead, he stuck it to a message board back at base for someone to claim.
When it was still there weeks later, for some reason he couldn’t understand, he took it down and put it in his pocket.
Soon Thibault experienced a sudden streak of luck; he won more than he’d earned in his first six months as a marine in poker games, and survived deadly combat that killed two of his closest friends. Only his best pal Victor seemed to have an explanation for his good fortune. The photograph of the young woman was his lucky charm. ‘You found that picture for a reason,’ he tells Thibault.
Back home in Colorado, Thibault can’t seem to get the photo – and the woman in it – out of his mind. Believing that she somehow holds the key to his destiny, he sets out with his German shepherd dog Zeus on a journey across the country to find her.
What he never expected is the strong but vulnerable woman he encounters in Hampton, North Carolina. Sure enough, Beth Clayton, a divorced mother with a young son Ben, is the girl he’s been waiting his whole life to meet.
Scarred by her brief marriage to a man she never loved, Beth falls for Thibault, “struck by the simple truth that sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people.”
And Thibault, caught off guard by his love for Beth, keeps the story of the photo, and his luck, a secret as they embark upon a passionate and all-consuming love affair.
But the secret will soon threaten to tear them apart, destroying not only their love, but also their lives...
Happy endings are never a certainty in Sparks’ novels, and its dark overtones and nail-biting finish ensure The Lucky One is a gripping page-turner.
(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)