Kelley Armstrong, Exit Strategy

Posted March 30, 2011 by Kathy Davie in

Exit Strategy (Nadia Stafford, #1)Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong
Series: Nadia Stafford, 1
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First in the Nadia Stafford suspense series, it’s very well titled as it sums up the entire purpose for the anti-hero and his spree.

The Story
There’s a nation-wide serial killer who appears to be choosing his victims out of a hat and is taunting the FBI with his ability to kill anywhere, anywhen. It also seems that he may be a contract killer—and all this indiscriminate killing is giving hitmen a bad name.

The Characters
The story serves to introduce the series’ primary characters—Nadia, Jack, Evelyn, and Quinn, hitmen all—who decide that their profession will be best served by their ganging together and finding the killer.

Nadia is an ex-cop with a bad past that affects her life 24/7 with wonky decisionmaking. Now, she’s a hitwoman with a moralistic bent—she only kills people who deserve it and it helps to pay the bills on the Canadian lodge she bought after she retired from the force. Between the killing and the lodge’s offerings of spelunking, rapelling, riding the rapids in kayaks, and shooting on the lodge’s range, Nadia manages to feed that adrenalin rush. A different kind of rush sweeps in when the lodge hosts its repeat guests—groups of cops and soldiers.

Jack is a tough, unemotional man who only kills for pay and has chosen to mentor Nadia in the killing business instead of passing her onto the gameplaying Evelyn. Just to make things interesting, Jack has never taken on a partner before, certainly never a woman, which leads his fellows to wondering about Nadia’s place in his life.

Evelyn has retired from playing an active role; now she plays behind the scenes using the Internet to search out and sell information while she jerks everyone’s string. Quinn is a hunky cop who is more interested in justice and plays both sides to ensure it.

Minor players include the Thomassini Mob family who regularly contracts with Nadia to hit someone for them about twice a year; the very dead cousin Amy, the font of all Nadia’s fears; Felix is a political assassin with a bent for high-tech gadgets bringing his expertise to the vigilante group seeking the serial killer; Mitch Dylan is a Toronto homicide detective who’s been coming to the lodge for the past five years, bringing his friends, hoping to get lucky with Nadia; and, Emma and Owen are a retired couple who do a lot of the work at the lodge—Emma is a wicked-good cook especially loved for her apple pie while Owen takes care of outside maintenance and leads the guests on nature hikes, fishing expeditions, and canoe trips.

My Take
A very unexpected story from Armstrong as there is nothing of the paranormal in this series.

Fascinating look at the methods and concerns of a hitman especially their wariness around each other—never know when one of your fellows will take a contract on you… Then there’s the business end of things: how a gunman gets a contract and how each decides their own ethics and obligations of killing.

I do love Jack’s style of speech. It cracks me up—no pronouns and an average of three words per sentence…when he talks. I can’t imagine how Armstrong managed to write his dialog and maintain the consistency!

I don’t quite buy Armstrong’s portrayal of Evelyn. She writes her as a twisty sort of character and, no, I don’t trust Eve, but Armstrong needs to do some more work on her for me to really feel the menace I think Armstrong is trying to convey.

The Cover
Great cover! It’s very clean with a hint of menace in Nadia’s casual pose on the front.

I am really looking forward to Made to Be Broken.

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