Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-234911-8
Romantic Suspense, 2016
I think it says a lot about my disenchantment with the current state of romantic suspense when, the moment I see a competent heroine in Lena Diaz’s No Exit, I am immediately tempted to give this book five oogies and then light up a cigarette. Unfortunately, this one suffers from some issues that make it hard for me to really get into it.
This is part of the Exit, Inc series. This one can stand alone pretty well, but the developments here will spoil the dramatic revelations of the previous book – in fact, the synopsis of this book is already a huge spoiler for the previous book. So, go read that book first if you want to get the maximum bang for your buck. At any rate, I have to touch on the plot of this book, so you also should stop reading now if you wish to remain unspoiled when it comes to the previous book.
Anyway, in this book, we know now that Exit, Inc is not simply a secret organization of assassins taking out the bad guys – some of the assassins discovered that they were duped by their bosses into taking out innocent people for some kind of dastardly plan, all the while believing that they were doing bad things for the greater good. Now, they have formed a splinter group, the Equalizers (I know, let’s all do the eyeroll together), to take down Exit, Inc.
Jace Atwell has no past affiliation with Exit, Inc, but our former Navy SEAL-cum-former bodyguard works with the Enforcers to take down the boss of Exit, Inc, Cyprian Cardenas. His assignment in this story is to get himself hired into the “extreme sports tour” front company of Exit, Inc, and then sneak inside to get secret information – that kind of thing. The boss of the front operations is Cyprian’s own daughter Melissa, who’s as hot as she is confusing to Jace. She confuses Jace because, from all reports and observations, she is a very fair boss who from all appearances is clean and honest… a complete 180 from her father. Well, is she that innocent? He will find out, although his sense of fairness insists that he will not cross that line and use sex to manipulate Melissa.
Melissa is no fool, though. Sure, she is attacked by a masked man who nearly ran her off a cliff earlier, and then this well-trained kickass action hero shows up to save her? And then spin a story about how he is jobless? Well, everything seems too well-timed to be mere coincidence. She has become suspicious of her father when she discovers that there are many personnel that either met untimely deaths and vanished in the past, and her father is clearly hiding things from her. She tries to piece together what she knows from eavesdropping/sneaking around and observing her father and his minions, and, to her, it’s apparent that Jace is going to be her father’s enemy. Can she trust him to help her get to the truth of the matter, and when the sword drops, will her loyalty be to Jace or her father? Oh, the suspense.
The plot sounds good, doesn’t it? A very capable action hero who nonetheless wants to stick to his personal code of honor when it comes to the heroine, a heroine who is nowhere as clueless as everyone assumes her to be, a villain with a very human reason to hate… I am all ready to party by the time this story moves past page 100. And yes, both Jace and Melissa remain in character throughout – no out of character stupid moments, and even better, no efforts are made to make Melissa more “feminine” (read: over-emotional and clueless). Unfortunately, the author does make Melissa a continuous damsel-in-distress and Jace the guy who keeps getting overpowered by using that tired old trick in which the bad guys can always sneak up to the good guys because, when the time is right for the dramatic scene to take place, these people lower their guards and just have to be caught off-guard.
Also, the scope of the story turns out to be disappointingly smaller from what the initial plot led me to believe. These two spend a lot of time running around the same neighborhood, sneaking into the attic of her father’s house, and that’s it. The bad guy’s sidekick leer and loom, but get taken out with bewildering ease… then again, the hero gets overpowered with bewildering ease too, so I guess it’s bewilderment for everyone; don’t be shy, come get some. The only great drama that has me at the edge of my seat is the last few dozens of pages in this story, and then it’s over and I still feel like I’ve been left high and dry. The middle third or so of this story is pretty dull because it’s mostly our two lead characters sneaking up and whispering while trying to avoid being caught.
It’s unfortunate that things aren’t so happening here because there is a perfect balance of romance and suspense here – neither overpower the other. It is also unfortunate that the author has the whole Equalizer team show up… only to then quickly shove them off to become mere deus ex machina plot device. Therefore, that whole thing feels like a thinly-veiled commercial break. While the confrontation with the villain is pretty good, I wish the author had involved the rest of the Equalizers more. Maybe have the villain plant bombs in several places, forcing the rest of the team to race against time to defuse them, or something – anything to make their appearances here feel less of a “Buy my book!” filler moment.
Still, a part of me really wants to give this book more oogies, that’s how much I want to love this book more for getting a fair share of things right. But I suppose I should be fair this time around, as it’s not the full moon and I’m not really in the mood. So reluctantly, I have to say that it gets a three-oogie score.