Tag: suspense-thriller

Firestorm by Rachel Grant

Firestorm by Rachel GrantFirestorm by Rachel Grant
Series: Flashpoint #3
Published by Janus Publishing on 10th July 2018
Pages: 300
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CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Start a Rachel Grant book and it’s a sure-thing to surface only a few days later. It’s that intricate, that complex and that impossible to breeze through because of the details and the twists and turns that slowly come into play despite the deceptively simple beginning. A light-hearted read this isn’t, but ‘Firestorm’, like every other Grant read, always muscles in on the romantic suspense genre with a lot of audacious aplomb.

That kind of daring comes in from the beginning with Savannah James and Cassius Callahan going undercover, though the trajectory of the storytelling doesn’t stay in a direction you’d expect. There’re hooked roads, forked paths and unforeseen obstacles that constantly throw wrenches in the good ol’ plot, which makes ‘Firestorm’ and all-round absorbing ride. But beneath that, there are also gut-churning and tooth-rottingly salacious details revolving around exploitative sex, violence and mega-money deals in a hot zone in Africa—all of which Cal and Savvy try to uncover without compromising themselves—that can be difficult to power through.

Still, betrayals and disavowals are par for the course, and it’s akin to hopscotching blindfolded in a minefield. The lack of full disclosure, the deception and lies (whether necessary or not), tend to be one of my pet-peeves in such romances nonetheless. ‘The mission above all’ as mantra and the prolonged double-crossing that inevitably destroys a relationship account for what I’ve always thought of as the biggest failings in such stories. There are a few instances of that here, unsurprisingly as it is, when it comes down to spooks justifying their belief that the ends justify the means. That said, it makes for interesting, though not always enjoyable friction and conflict between Cal and Savvy.

In contrast to Cal’s open-book demeanour however, I was itching to unravel Savannah, or at least get to the real person behind the mission-above-all heartless character who’s seemingly been nothing more than a compassionless automaton in the first few books of this series. What I wasn’t prepared for was a tragic backstory to emerge, and one that should be uncomfortably close to women who’ve tried to rise in their careers. It isn’t to say there aren’t eye-rolling TSTL moments—like the stunt she pulls towards the end, which made me think that trust was still an issue, not to mention the stupid (and wrong) belief of doing even stupider things to in a self-sacrificing way that typically gets old and annoying.

As I’d initially expected, ‘Firestorm’ is a longer read than most typical romance-length books. Beyond the characters and the thrilling storyline, Grant takes her time laying out the context of the Central African region to the point where parts of the story feel like a anthropological documentary embedded into the rush of adventure…and for that alone, it’s not hard to consider ‘Firestorm’ a fantastic (and quite possibly, the best) addition to the series.

Wanting You by Leslie A. Kelly

Wanting You by Leslie A. KellyWanting You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #2
Published by Forever Yours on 31st July 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

A cold case is suddenly too hot to handle

Police officer Rowan Winchester wants nothing to do with his family's A-list Hollywood legacy. Working with the LAPD is his way of atoning for the Winchesters' dark and secretive past. And, right now, the last thing Rowan needs is true-crime novelist Evie Fleming nosing around the most notorious deaths in Los Angeles - including the ones that haunt his own family. To make things worse, he's torn between wanting the wickedly smart writer out of his city... and just plain wanting her.

While researching her latest book, Evie suspects that a dangerous new killer is prowling the City of Angels. Now she just has to convince the devastatingly handsome cop that she's right. Soon Evie and Rowan are working together to try to find the killer, even as their attraction ignites. But when the killer hones in on Evie, she and Rowan realize they'll have to solve this case fast if they want to stay alive.

‘Wanting You’ reads more like a typical murder-mystery in the RS genre as compared to the previous book—since it involves law enforcement and a true crime writer—, which isn’t a bad thing. If Leslie A. Kelly’s first book in the series felt more like a glitzy portrayal of celebrity romance, Evie/Rowan’s story delves into the grittier side of violent crime in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, with a lot less of the stardust that one would expect of this kind of story.

The book functions well as a standalone, but there’s a heavy reliance on a tragic narrative arc and a convoluted, mysterious back story involving child actors, fame and what might be cover-ups. Kelly recounts it just fine, so catching up wouldn’t be an issue at all if that’s a concern. Disparate pieces of the mystery did throw me off though, when I found myself struggling to make the connections between Rowan’s family history, Evie’s current writing project (and the dangers that brings on its own), a deranged stalker and how these really linked up when they felt like smaller, unrelated threads that weren’t satisfactorily tied together. The latter half of the book settled into a police procedural as the newly minted team of Evie and Rowan go on a serial killer’s trail and felt more predictable in the way it throws shadow on everything, though I did spend a goodly bit of time wondering where this was all leading.

Speaking of couple-chemistry, Evie and Rowan do clash in their objectives and that’s typically what I dig when it comes to the romantic portion of it all: the sparks, the secrets that the latter guards and what the former wants to crack open, all of which seemingly putting each other on opposite sides despite their attraction. The quick way they fell into lust which then strayed into a holding pattern that mostly had Rowan blowing hot and cold proved a lull unfortunately, along with the roundabout police procedural that made me skim a bit.

That said, I liked Evie a lot—her determination, her compassion and forwardness—and this was a huge plus point in the general unevenness of the storytelling, which, don’t get me wrong, is something that still piques my interest. Kelly’s writing can be absorbing, and even if there were parts I was more engrossed in than others, I’m this far into the series not to want the last book in it.

 

three-stars

Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin

Desperate Girls by Laura GriffinDesperate Girls by Laura Griffin
Series: Wolfe Security #1
Published by Gallery Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Defense attorney Brynn Holloran is right at home among cops, criminals, and tough-as-nails prosecutors. With her sharp wit and pointed words, she has a tendency to intimidate, and she likes it that way. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but in her personal life, she’s a mess.

When a vicious murderer she once helped prosecute resurfaces and starts a killing spree to wipeout those who put him behind bars, one thing becomes clear: Brynn needs to run for her life.

With no help from the police, Brynn is forced to take matters into her own hands, turning to a private security firm for protection. But when Brynn defies advice and gets involved in the investigation, even the former Secret Service agent assigned to protect her may not be able to keep her safe. With every new clue she discovers, Brynn is pulled back into the vortex of a disturbing case from her past.

As the clock ticks down on a manhunt, Brynn’s desperate search for the truth unearths long-buried secrets and reignites a killer’s fury.

‘Desperate Girls’ isn’t a title I’d immediately associated with the blurb of the story and it became quite clear from the onset that the story is so much more than the rather irrelevant-sounding title. As a sort-of offshoot of Laura Griffin’s Tracers series, I was eager nonetheless to take a closer look into Liam Wolfe’s Security company staffed by supersized heroes and the different kind of romantic suspense revolving around security that Griffin was going to write.

The stoic bodyguard who eventually falls for his principal when they are paired up—typically reluctantly on the latter’s part—as a threat escalates isn’t a new idea, but Griffin’s take on it is a unique, intriguing one, going further than the usual bodyguard-type romance. The standout as always, is Griffin’s writing, her ability to juggle so many elements at once while revealing the intricate details about the security business that simply go beyond shadowing a principal. The complexity of the police case, the red-herrings, solid protagonists and the well-researched and fantastic writing made ‘Desperate Girls’ an entertaining read, even though my rather shallow way of measuring this had partially to do with the amount of sleep I had the past few nights at night as I got lost in Griffin’s writing.

My only gripes were the few TSTL moments early on, the courtroom drama that proved a bit of a lull (I was more caught up in the danger of a psychopathic, escaped convict and the slow, amping up of the action) and the final plot-twist feeling like a last-gasp attempt at drama that proved to be downers for me. I did feel that characterisation suffered a little under the hyper-focus on the court case and the overall suspense but these however, weighed against how much I enjoyed the developing action nonetheless, probably seem somewhat churlish to include. Still, the pulse-pounding moments, all leading up to the action-movie-type ending (complete with the exotic location) seemed to be over too soon, leaving me eager for the next book in this promising series and its fresh, new cast of characters.

four-stars

Cold Blooded by Toni Anderson

Cold Blooded by Toni AndersonCold Blooded by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice
Published by Toni Anderson on June 12th 2018
Pages: 311
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three-half-stars

Searching for the truth…

Disgraced investigative journalist Pip West is devastated when she discovers her best friend’s body face-down in a tranquil lake. When cops and federal agents determine that her friend overdosed then drowned, Pip knows they’re mistaken and intends to prove it.

Special Agent Hunt Kincaid doesn’t trust journalists and has no patience for Pip’s delusions, especially since her meddling could reveal why the FBI is interested in her friend’s last days. The dead scientist worked at the cutting edge of vaccine research and might have a connection to a new, weaponized, vaccine-resistant anthrax strain that just hit the black market.

…just turned deadly.

Pip is thrown off her game by grief and her unexpected attraction to the handsome federal agent. Hunt battles the same unwelcome pull, determined to resist the heat that threatens to consume them both. But the more Pip digs, the closer she gets to both the sexy FBI agent, and to a bioweapons terrorist who’s more than capable of cold-bloodedly sacrificing anyone who gets in his way.

Toni Anderson’s poised writing is always finely balanced between intricate details, action and intriguing development—well, this is no different. But it’s good to see ‘Cold-Blooded’ starting afresh (either that, or I really can’t seem to remember these protagonists popping up anywhere else) with an entirely new pairing without the strong links to the rest of the characters in Anderson’s previous books as it reads like a proper standalone.

The uneasy relationship between journalists and law enforcement is the crux of Pip’s and Hunt’s initial conflict here and like oil and water, they don’t mix. Both Pip and Hunt get off on the wrong foot and their incompatible goals, along with the secrets kept—not to mention the cloud of grief and mourning that surrounds Pip from the start—pretty much define first half of their bumpy ride together.

Pip and Hunt as a pairing however, does feel like an optional ‘add-on’ in some ways, put together because of their own different inroads into the same investigation with mere hints of attraction and tension that stretch past the halfway mark. That this happens over the course of an intense few days, so much so that it causes Hunt to reevaluate his no-commitment stance after good sex, does make their instalove/connection more implausible and unconvincing (this much is admitted by the characters themselves).

Bottomline is, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was always some kind of wall separating them—Hunt’s indirect way of using Pip to further his investigation, Pip’s grief and her own uncertainty about Hunt as a law enforcement officer and what he represents, the implicit but telling lack of trust on both sides even towards the end of the story—and this barrier didn’t feel as though it’d been overcome by the end of the story, given how they’d only gotten to know each other incidentally (and in bits and pieces) while working the case.

Minus the romance however, Anderson’s storytelling nonetheless, is compelling. Weaving the elements of what appear to be shady circumstances of related homicides and drug use as both Pip and Hunt dig unrelentingly deeper into this tangled web…well, this is Anderson in her element. These are the bits I’ve always enjoyed about Anderson’s writing, even if I thought the romantic relationship between Pip/Hunt could have been left out and ‘Cold Blooded’ would have come out as tighter, more focused story.

But my being less sceptical about the romance doesn’t make ‘Cold Blooded’ a bad book. Far from it, in fact, despite the small conflict I had buying into Pip and Hunt together. I definitely enjoyed this more as a mystery/suspense novel rather than one classified as romantic suspense, but perhaps the base line that matters here is that Toni Anderson writes well enough for me to stayed glued to the pages.

three-half-stars

Bloodtree River by Sarah Barrie

Bloodtree River by Sarah BarrieBloodtree River by Sarah Barrie
Published by HQ Fiction on 23rd April 2018
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

From the author of the bestselling Hunters Ridge series comes this stand-alone twisty rural suspense, this time set against the dark backdrop of Tasmanian mountains. Indiana O'Meara is no stranger to the forces of evil.

Her own past is full of violence. Now a policewoman, Indy is always fighting to redeem herself and defeat the dark. So when girls begin to go missing at a remote cattle station in Tasmania, she is quick to agree to go undercover to investigate chief suspect, the owner of Calico Mountain Lodge, Logan Atherton, even though last time she went undercover it came to a bloody end. But her early encounter with Logan Atherton reveals a man full of contradictions. His deep empathy for horses and those he cares for is obvious but he is also taciturn to the point of rudeness, and there is a strange atmosphere at the lodge. It doesn't add up. As Indy begins to dig deeper into the secrets at the Lodge, she finds herself embroiled in a murderous web more complex and terrifying than she could ever have imagined...

Sarah Barrie writes a rather slow but steadily-building mystery of disappearing girls in a remote part of Tasmania and an undercover stint that goes badly awry. Still, it’s a spin-off book for Indy O’Meara, tough cop and determined woman—who’d initially turned up in Barrie’s Hunters Ridge series—in the wilds of Tassie to work under a man who’s the suspect in this case…well, who could resist?

‘Bloodtree River’ however, has a plot that requires you to actively (or make the effort at least) stay engaged in the story nonetheless. Written mostly from Indy’s perspective, I was conscious of her status as an outlier but by extension, felt like a reader who was merely tangentially observing the action happening through an outlier’s eyes.

Still, it was easy to get swept along once I had the names and the context of the Athertons’s screwed up family business straightened out in my head—this much was imperative to understanding and getting caught up in the drama. There were twists and turns that got exponentially more interesting—more suspension of disbelief required though—in the last quarter of the story, though I did find the romantic bits less than convincing because of the circumstances that dictated the slow burn and the eventual rift between Indy and Logan. Indy’s undercover duties did prove to be a barrier—one that didn’t at least allow for Indy to be honest with Logan and the push-pull that resulted because of this—though having her walk the tight rope between being a cop and an employee under Logan was a balance that Sarah Barrie did sort of handle quite well. It was deception for a legitimate reason, so to speak, with the complications arising only when attraction and emotions started to get involved.

Simply put, Logan/Indy was a pairing that didn’t quite get off the ground sufficiently for me, lost as it was in the flurry of the drama and the web of lies spun in Calico Mountain Lodge, to the point where ‘Bloodtree River’ would have functioned equally well without the romance. It was a pretty decent read nonetheless, with a large enough story arc and an established base that can be stretched over a few books—which I hope Barrie does.

three-half-stars

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda Leigh

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda LeighBones Don't Lie by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 13th 2018
Pages: 348
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five-stars

Private investigator Lance Kruger was just a boy when his father vanished twenty-three years ago. Since then he’s lived under the weight of that disappearance—until his father’s car is finally dredged up from the bottom of Grey Lake. It should be a time for closure, except for the skeleton found in the trunk. A missing person case gone cold has become one of murder, and Lance and attorney Morgan Dane must face the deadly past that’s risen to the surface.

For Lance, the investigation yields troubling questions about a man he thought he knew. But memories can play dirty tricks. For Morgan, uncovering each new lie comes with a disquieting fear that someone is out there watching, because someone is killing every witness tied to this decades-old crime. Morgan and Lance follow in the shadows of a relentless killer and walk right into the cross fire.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ books are always gripping and suspenseful, locking you down with a twisty case and protagonists who work together so well that you can’t help but love them. I’ve enjoyed every one of those as much as I loved Morgan and Lance, and Leigh certainly doesn’t disappoint with ‘Bones Don’t Lie’, with a case that strikes too close to home for Lance.

Every time I think Leigh can’t do any better, she manages to surprise me once again, starting with pushing Morgan/Lance (somewhat) quietly to the top of my best fictional couples list. Individually, Lance and Morgan are fascinating, complex characters; together, their connection to each other simply feels like a solid entity that is the only constant in this maelstrom. In fact, the tense, unfolding murder mystery is contrasted with the respect and love Morgan/Lance had for each other, even as their slowly maturing relationship is tested with a significant discovery linked to Lance’s unresolved past.

The romance is slight, given that Lance and Morgan are already involved, so the focus in ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ is solely on the murder mystery which is, in itself, remarkable and creepy in its own right as it makes you question all you know about law enforcement  and the contradictions so inherent in human personalities.

Still, I inhaled every line that detailed Morgan/Lance’s interactions—Leigh infuses so much depth and subtlety in crafting these characters—that it’s merely a foregone conclusion that this pairing would only come out stronger and better for it. I love Morgan’s unwavering sense of justice, her own protectiveness towards her children as much as I love Lance’s ability to listen and pull back while not compromising his own integrity and honour. Reading about the other characters in the Scarlet Falls series made me only giddier, though that merely reinforces just how much I need more of Morgan and Lance.

five-stars

The Longest Silence by Debra Webb

The Longest Silence by Debra WebbThe Longest Silence by Debra Webb
Series: Shades of Death #4
Published by Mira Books on March 6th 2018
Pages: 336
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three-stars

Joanna Guthrie was free. She had been for eleven years--or so she needed everyone to believe. What really happened during the longest eighteen days of her life, when she and two other women were held captive by a dangerous serial killer, wasn't something she could talk about. Not with him watching. Not unless she wanted to end up like the ones who didn't make it out.

But when more women go missing in an eerily similar manner, Jo knows her prolonged silence will only seal their fates. She's finally ready to talk; she just needs someone to listen. FBI special agent Tony LeDoux can't deny he finds Jo compelling--he's just not sure he believes her story. But with the clock ticking, Jo will do anything to convince him, even if it means unearthing long-buried secrets that will land them squarely in the crosshairs of the killer...

Anthony LeDoux is a familiar character to those who have been following Debra Webb’s ‘Shades of Death’ series. Here, he’s a pale and rather pathetic version of his uptight self in the previous 3 books—a jobless alcoholic after the breakdown of his marriage and an emblem, so to speak, of an FBI hero who, because of his hubris, has fallen far and in sore need of redemption. The latest case that involves his missing niece might just offer him that, but not before he encounters a survivor of a long-ago crime that bears a chilling similarity to this case.

‘The Longest Silence’ sits in the suspense/thriller genre than in the romantic suspense one: LeDoux and Jo’s relationship is superficial and one that’s established because of a common motive they have in wanting to solve the mystery. Their hookup is made out to be a meaningless one from the start and thereafter, not entirely mentioned again; the hot-and-heavy never quite happens and neither do their growing feelings for each other. Their interactions thereafter consist of LeDoux trying to uncover what Joanna has been hiding from him as well as his running from place to place in desperation to form a credible picture of the entire crime scene and timeline.

Unlike Webb’s previous books in this series, I found myself less captivated by LeDoux and Jo than I was with Bobbie Gentry and Nick Shade. If I admired Bobbie’s immense strength and fortitude and was somewhat seduced by Nick’s enigmatic personality and the demons that haunted him, I couldn’t quite say the same for Ledoux and Jo as a pair. Webb’s superb writing kept me engrossed in the growing mystery and suspense and after I started looking at this book without its romantic elements—which was easy to do—LeDoux and Jo simply became protagonists that I didn’t find myself personally getting invested in. I was instead, thrilled to see cameos by Bobbie and Nick—their presence and rare HEA made this book for me—whose introduction towards the end of the book also proved its turning point.

‘The Longest Silence’ is nonetheless an engrossing read as it keeps you guessing how the connections are eventually going to work out. There are parts of the story that left me sceptical, but there’s no denying that Webb’s storytelling is masterful, but those who are looking for the tiniest speck of romance however, might find themselves disappointed.

three-stars