Series: Death and the Devil, #1
Published by Riptide Publishing on 26th February 2018
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Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.
Blade is everything Jack doesn’t believe in: remorseless, detached, lawless. Yet, Jack’s only chance to survive is to strike a bargain with the devil and join forces with Blade. As they trek across a hostile desert, Jack learns that Blade is much more than a dead-eyed killer—and harder to resist than he should be.
A year later, Jack is home and finally getting his life on track. Then Ethan Blade reappears and throws it all into chaos once more. It’s impossible to trust the assassin, especially when his presence casts doubts on Jack’s loyalty to his country, but Jack cannot ignore what Blade’s return means: the mess that brought them together is far from over, and Ethan might just bring back the piece of Jack’s soul he thought he’d lost forever.
‘Where Death Meets the Devil’ made me take few deep breaths simply because of how brilliantly well-crafted and written it is—and that’s on me for not discovering L.J. Hayward’s fantastic start to a series that’s got so much more going for it even after I’ve finished the first book with my mind blown.
It all starts off with Jack Reardon in deep cover and getting compromised after his long year of infiltrating and spending a crappy birthday in a torture shack. But this is merely the tip of an iceberg of the security operations of a so-called Metastate—a fictional, uber-secretive meta-coalition of Australasian nations tasked specifically to deal with threats and counterterrorism, where in itself, motives are blurred and personal agendas overlap. Enter Ethan Blade—a Sugar-baby assassin, whose stone-cold killing ways and contradictory personality traits defy Jack’s every expectation.
Both Jack and Ethan are fantastic and complex characters—despite me getting to know Jack more intimately than Ethan, written as this is solely from Jack’s POV and his perception of Ethan, the more mysterious and enigmatic other protagonist and love-interest who still has so much depths to plumb. I loved their chemistry, the mental tug-of-war they had as they each battled with trust and betrayal and the slow burn that finally sparked off into hot rolls in the hay (quite literally at times)—all of which were explored so deftly and confidently by Hayward.
The action goes back and forth as ‘then’ and ‘now’ in alternating chapters—events that took place in the past that still have resounding consequences a year later—which did prove jarring at the start. But the confusion did ease eventually, as I slid into a steady run of action both timelines and from there felt as though it was akin to watching 2 highly entertaining movies running in your head at once, starring the same characters, just at different points in their lives.
In some books, the characters outshine the plot and in other, it’s vice versa. Here, both stand out, playing off and against each other in a way that capture the ever-changing dynamic between the protagonists and those who stand against them, just as the driving forward momentum barely slows down with narrative twists and turns that you meander through while trying not to slip off.
That the first book ends with something rather unsettled didn’t bother me so much at all oddly—Hayward promises more after all with more books in the series.