Saturday, 6 March 2010

Book Review: Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong

Grade: 4 stars

Novellus Superbus!
Amazon appetizer:
Nadia Stafford is an ex-cop - fired after she shot a child killer. She now works for one small mafia family: the way she sees it, no one innocent is getting hurt. But then a serial killer starts murdering innocent people in the style of a hitman. The police investigation threatens to unmask several professional hitmen, including Nadia. So she bands together with five other hitmen, including her mentor, the mysterious Jack. Together they decide to hunt down the killer - but perhaps that's just what he wants. Are they walking into a devious and brilliantly planned trap?
My thoughts:  I'm a HUGE fan of Armstrong's Otherworld series, and of Kelley Armstrong herself, as I find she is an amazing, top notch, extraordinary author. Her descriptive, detailed and very evocative writing style is a joy to read, the readers feel as if they were in the middle of the story, seeing everything unfold in front of their eyes as in a movie. So the question wasn't whether I would read her not paranormal novels but when I would get around to read them. I gobbled up the first in the series (Exit Strategy) in a mere 3 weekdays and started the second right away, my only complaint is that there are no more books in the series at this moment.. :-(

Why is this book such a great read? Let me tell you:

If I had to sum up Kelley Armstrong's forte in a few words I'd say this novel is a great read:

1. because Armstrong picks exciting plots
2. because of her characterization
3. because of her in-depth knowledge of the subject she's writing about
4. because of her humourous writing.

And in a bit more detail:

1. The plot is interesting, with constant twists and turns, leaving you thinking and still putting the puzzle together after the end.

2. Characterization: Kelley Armstrong's characters are 3D flesh and blood people who leap off the page. They are unique, they are complex, they have depth. I love how Armstrong gives each one of them a solid background history, the personal details of which the reader uncovers all along the story.

In the Nadia Stafford series Armstrong introduces a new set of characters, equally believable and real as the Otherworld characters.

The protagonist is Nadia, the ex-cop turned hitwoman (but of course she hasn't compromised her moral integrity, she only liquidates mob thugs), whose struggles and emotional hardships  are not simply mentioned in the novel but are detailed repeatedly, outlining how much it is not easy for Nadia to live in this new (and underworld) world.

Jack is the mysterious hitman about whom we discover very little: he is older than Nadia, around 50, has been in the business for quite some time. He is Nadia's mentor/friend and there is definite Scully/Mulder tension here. If I say Jack is a man of few words, I'm understating it! He speaks in monosyllabic words, in one word sentences, dropping everything unnecessary (pronouns for example) out.

I usually don't like when an author writes in segments or uses too much sentence fractions as I feel it breaks up the pace of the story and after a while it irritates me that this kind of writing is constantly forcing me out of the story to the mere role of reader and not participant. However, this was not the case with Jack's segmented speech. It was necessary to his character portrayal, so to give us a better understanding of how he is. And he sure is one of a kind. He is very secretive and doesn't pry, prefers blending in the background and giving Nadia silent comfort by his presence. His protectiveness and thoughfulness towards Nadia suggests he is interested in her more than a simple mentor is, but he represses any such feelings and thoughts.

Quinn is the 3 participant to this triangle. An active federal agent who's moonlighting as a vigilante, taking care of justice himself. He is described as the perfect romantic candidate for Nadia and a typical all-American boy: tall, broad shouldered, handsome, kind, funny and easygoing. He is a warm, friendly presence in the book, a character you have to like.

3. Armstrong always does her homework and it shows in her novels. I was amazed at her knowledge of guns, explosives and other hitman/police related tidbits and infos.

4. Humour is like Armstrong's special trademark. Her writing is peppered with sarcastic comments and the dry wit of her characters make the reader chuckle even in the midst of a nail-biting-exciting passage.

Favourite quotes:
"You fucked up. Having a mark make you before you even get within firing distance? Unbelievable." Evely stepped forward, eyes trained on his. "But you didn't have all the facts, did you? You didn't know she was a pro."
"Pro?" Bert squinted at me. "She's a hitwoman?"
"No," Evelyn said. "You just got your ass kicked by the Avon lady."
What did I tell you, isn't Armstrong hilarious?
"Tomorrow?" he said. "You want to jog? I'll follow."
"You run?"
"Only if someone's chasing. I'll drive."
Don't be mistaken after such a lengthy presentation of the characters: this novel is not centered around any love triangle, you have to search very hard to find the romantic angle. Instead it is a fast paced, gripping suspense novel.

Plot: 9/10
Characters: 10/10
Ending: 8/10
Writing: 9/10
Cover: 10/10

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