Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Perfect 10: EXIT STRATEGY by Kelley Armstrong

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EXIT STRATEGY - Kelley Armstrong
A Perfect 10
Bantam Books
ISBN: 978-0-553-58819-4
July 2007
Crime Fiction/Thriller

The United States and Canada, the Present

I didn't expect to like a novel about a hired killer, especially a female one. But Kelley Armstrong pulls off a miracle. Not only did I immediately like the Canadian ex-cop, I even liked her enigmatic mentor in the world of hitmen. Nadia Stafford's past left her with a desperate longing to see justice done. Though that passion is rigidly controlled beneath her cool exterior most of the time, a single episode where that control snapped led to her discharge from the force...and for her family and former friends to desert her. Nadia invested her all -- monetarily and emotionally -- into Red Oak Lodge, a wilderness camp on Ontario's Crescent Lake. Her funds are limited, so from time to time, she takes a commission to solve a problem for a New York mob family, but only if that problem involves one of the bad guys.

Nadia has recently returned to the lodge after taking out a punk drug dealer when she's approached by Jack; that's the only name she knows him by, and he's one of the very few who know her real identity. Jack invites her to join him in finding and stopping the serial killer who is terrorizing the States by murdering at random across the country. The Helter Skelter killer's expertise has led the authorities to believe he's a pro. This puts pressure on all hitmen...and that is bad for business.

Jack introduces Nadia to the rest of the group; decide for yourselves how to take them, for they are hitmen all, including grandmotherly Evelyn, who's like no grandmother you'd ever want to know. One other member of the group of five, however, merits some mention for having reasons in common with Nadia for what he does. If anything of a romantic nature develops for Nadia, there are a couple of possible candidates, but EXIT STRATEGY will be followed by at least one more novel starring Nadia Stafford.

Ms. Armstrong is GOOD!! She does an excellent job developing her main characters, so much so that they are every bit as fascinating as the thrilling plot. So is the attention to detail with the many disguises and techniques used by the group in their hunt for the killer. A hunt that will see Nadia place herself in harm's way. The bulk of the book is written in first person from Nadia's viewpoint, but each new killing is described in a short chapter written in third person.

You've seen the word riveting in reviews and I've used it myself, but after reading EXIT STRATEGY, I really know the meaning of the word. Have you ever seen they way a rivet gun works? Or a pneumatic nailer? Well, that compares with the way my eyes were nailed to the pages of EXIT STRATEGY. Kelley Armstrong's ability to mesmerize with exciting action while making flawed characters sympathetic is enormous. In recognition of that fact, I'm awarding EXIT STRATEGY one of RRT's rare Perfect 10s. She's also the author of a paranormal series about women of the Otherworld. Check out her website at www.kelleyarmstrong.com.

Jane Bowers

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