Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Series: Nadia Stafford, Book 1
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction, Crime
Before reading this series, the only interaction I’d had with Armstrong’s writing had been her Fantasy books such as her Women of the Otherworld series and her Cainsville series. Of course, Armstrong does an amazing job at writing suspenseful fantasy but I was overjoyed to see she’s even better at writing suspenseful mystery.
Personally, I find it very difficult to talk about mysteries without giving anything away. This means that my spoiler free section of this review is going to be pretty short. I will, however, say that Armstrong does a great job at throwing in twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.
If you’re interested in stories about contract killers or the darker side of justice, I would highly recommend giving this book a try. Armstrong does a beautiful job of developing the world and her characters in this book without drawing away from the plot. If you’re not super interested in contract killers but do like mysteries, I suggest giving this series a try.
One of my favourite things about this story is how in depth Armstrong gets into her characters backgrounds. Nadia, being the main character, has fully developed flashbacks that help explain her motivation and history. This allows us, as readers, to understand why Nadia is okay with killing specific marks to keep her lodge afloat but unwilling to fully join the world of contract killers.
Even Jack is an extremely well developed character. Sure, he doesn’t say much. But that just means what he does say is that much more important. While Nadia feels like she’s prying when she asks Jack questions, he’s more than willing to share personal information about himself with her. Heck, even Quinn was able to realize that it’s Jack’s body language that does most of the talking for him.
Jack’s openness with Nadia, when he’s so closed off to the other people in his life, makes me smile. It shows a level of trust between them that goes past mentor and mentee. Jack feels open enough with Nadia to not alter his voice or wear a disguise while with her, and that shows a level of trust that I’m not sure Jack shares with anyone else, besides Evelyn that is. While they were brought up in very different situations and have drastically different moral codes, they’re similar enough where it counts that they makes sense together in my head.
The fact that Jack is so protective of Nadia – to the point where he tells Evelyn to forget about Nadia and keeps her a secret – is an even more endearing trait. He knows that Nadia shouldn’t be Evelyn’s new “project” so throws her off of Nadia’s scent to give Nadia a chance to be her own person without Evelyn’s “tutelage”. Sure Evelyn still tries to get Nadia to be her protegee once they’ve met, but at that point Nadia has been in the world long enough to know that accepting Evelyn’s offer isn’t what she wants for herself. Jack also tries his darnedest to protect Nadia’s identity from his other contacts in the business – such as Quinn and Felix – to ensure they won’t be able to find her after the case is done. Yes, it might also be that Jack didn’t want her to get too chummy with Quinn, which didn’t really work out well for Jack, but Jack was still thinking about Nadia’s safety when he made the judgement call.
Speaking of the case, the Helter Skelter killer moniker was a well devised one. The fact that he kept changing the game – kept changing his motivation and technique – made the case that much more complex and intriguing. While I can’t imagine getting turned on by the power one gets by killing or even choosing to kill, this was a great literary tool to show just how deep into this game Wilkes really got. It stopped being about leaving the game, about leaving a legacy behind, about covering his ass and fixing his past mistakes. It became about the freedom of choice, the freedom of having absolute power and control. While I know a lot of people fall victim to these feelings, I can’t personally relate to it. And, to me, that makes it even more fascinating to read about.
I can also understand why Jack was willing to be the bank and pay his colleges to help him solve the case. After all, who better to catch a contract killer than other contract killers? They know the game, the inside tips and tricks. Plus chances are they know the person doing the killing. When the crew eventually figures out that it’s Wilkes, Jack and Evelyn are able to use their personal experience with the guy to help come up with a plan to catch him.
The fact that Nadia was able to escape multiple run-ins with Wilkes goes to show that she’s pretty good at her job – even if being a contract killer is only her side gig. She may not have the years of experience that Evelyn or even Jack have, but her background as a cop gives Nadia a unique take on the case that helps the crew figure things out. Besides that, Nadia’s acting classes as a kid help make it easier for her to get into whatever roles she needs – the doting yet ditsy protegee, the pregnant girlfriend, even the muscle when dealing with the killer that was sent after her.
After “catching” Wilkes, Nadia knows that her role in the world of contract killers has forever been changed. Sure, she and Quinn exchange email addresses to stay in touch. And sure, Evelyn has told Nadia that she’s always going to be willing to take her under her wing. But really, what changed the most was the way that Nadia understood the underworld. Of course she knew that there were people like Jack that didn’t always ask questions before accepting jobs, but now Nadia understands how getting too deep into your work can lead to your own end. One can only hope that she keeps this lesson in mind for the future.
Finally, I love the fact that Nadia is the one to bring up the trip to Egypt with Jack. Yes, Jack was going to suggest it earlier in the story but he got cut off and never brought it up again. Nadia was the one that said he could thank her for her role in the case by taking her on an all expenses paid trip to Egypt – for two if he was willing to go with her. Of course Jack was down for this trip, though he tries to act casual about it. I can only imagine how happy he was that Nadia didn’t just ignore the conversation they’d started to have days before they parted ways.
I bet Evelyn wished Jack had made his move before Nadia brought up the trip, but she should know that Jack wasn’t going to take the risk. Things will work out the way they’re meant to.
Having gotten this deep into the review, I have to believe that you’ve already read Exit Strategy. What were your thoughts and feelings going into the book? Did they change when your read was over? Did any of the twists catch you off guard? I would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂