Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-234908-8
Romantic Suspense, 2015
Despite being touted as a book that “launches her thrilling new series”, Lena Diaz’s Exit Strategy is actually closely related to her previous Deadly Games series. There are many references to events in those books, the villains have a score to settle with the secondary characters, who spin into motion this story. The hero and the heroine are pretty much dragged into the whole thing – in the heroine’s case, literally kicking and screaming – and even the whole EXIT, Inc thing seems to be from the previous series as well. I have not read those previous books, so that’s me, the sad little person standing in the corner, ignored by the cool kids in the party as I desperately mouth to nobody in particular, “What’s going on, people?”
From what I can tell, EXIT, Inc is an operative group endorsed by the government to do naughty things, even bad things, in the name of truth, justice, and liberty the Uncle Sam way. How fortunate that these guys always seem to kill only bad guys – there is never anything that truly challenges one’s conscience! Or perhaps not, as in this story, operative Mason Hunt is informed that his marked-for-exit target, supposed terrorism fund-raiser darling Sabrina Hightower, is actually set up… by his own bosses. He decides to bring her along and keep her safe while trying to get to the bottom of things, and in the meantime, the seeds are sown for some secondary characters from the previous series to establish an anti-EXIT, Inc of sorts, comprising operatives who no longer want to work for the corrupt higher-up folks of that entity. Meanwhile, Sabrina will learn that the series of fatal accidents, disappearances, and other tragedies that took her family from her may be connected in a sinister way that points back at her – EXIT, Inc wants her dead. But why?
The villains in this story can be uncharacteristically inept or careless for a supposedly efficient covert group of assassins, but on the whole, Exit Strategy is a romantic suspense that works. I say this despite feeling that I am missing some pieces of the big picture, mind you. This is one story where sequel baits do not hog or overwhelm scenes, and those that show up have their roles in the plot. More importantly, the author manages to deliver action hero stuff without crossing the line into outright camp, which is rare these days as most authors tend to just create some invincible himbos in a secret mercenary group and let the reader’s drooling lust for these himbos to carry the story across illogical plots, screaming idiot damsels in distress, and cartoon villains. The villains here can be on the cartoon side, but the plot isn’t that much of a rubbish and Mason actually feels like a covert guy instead of a Chippendale dancer auditioning for a role in a pilot TV series.
I also like that Sabrina, once she finds her equilibrium and her footing in the story, takes the active role in wanting to protect herself from the bad guys. There’s a bit of her that can be on the unrealistic side at times, especially how she’s still concerned about her missing grandfather when she should be worried about her life. Still, the fact that she isn’t content to be a sitting duck, and that she can even be a help to the hero – all this is worth throwing some confetti in the air for.
So yes, I think Exit Strategy is a pretty rock solid romantic suspense, although the romance is a bit muted compared to the whole suspense thing. Still, this story takes place over a short period of time, so it makes perfect sense that the romance is never allowed to be more than what it is here. And what is present here has some pretty sizzling chemistry and heat. Still, I’d suggest that folks read the author’s previous series first, or they’d end up like me, wondering whether I’d like this book even more if I had done so. I do like Exit Strategy, as it has been a blast, but there are things that fly over my head here due to my unfamiliarity with the previous series, and it kind of affects my enjoyment a bit.