Monday, August 06, 2007

Book Review: Exit Strategy

As part of the miniBookExpo for Bloggers (hi Lex!), I got my paws on Kelley Armstrong's latest, Exit Strategy (Random House / Seal Books).

I've been an Armstrong reader since the publication of her first book, Bitten, the first in what would become the Woman of the Otherworld series. With the Otherworld series, Armstrong created a world of werewolves, witches, necromancers and demons, integrated into a very familiar modern-day world. A world full of strong, well developed female characters. What more could you ask for?

Unfortunately, I got to the place with Armstrong's books where I started to find the sparkle that I loved in her writing lacking, and I started to get bored. I confess that I couldn't make it through more then half Haunted, and have resisted picking up the two novels that followed. Add that to the fact that Exit Strategy was a story without a whiff of the supernatural? I approached Armstrong's latest with both trepidation and expectation.

Exit Strategy is the first work in Armstrong's newest series, the Nadia Stafford books. It's a straight-up suspenseful thriller, lacking all of the supernatural hallmarks of Armstrong's previous publications. That's not to say that it doesn't have a lot in common with her other stories - thankfully, the similarities are everything that got me hooked on Armstrong in the first place. Strong, nuanced characters. A female protagonist who gets that being strong doesn't mean denying emotion, or refusing to admit confusion or internal conflict. A well developed storyline. And events that maybe, just maybe, could be happening in your own backyard.

Nadia Stafford is an ex-cop and current assassin-for-hire (What is it about the words hit woman that sounds so awkward? It feels almost as bad as saying "lady doctor"). After finishing a job, she soon finds herself, along with her mentor Jack and other shady professional hit men tracking down a serial killer that they suspect is one of their own.

With Exit Strategy, Armstrong creates an excellent, fast-paced and layered story. The hunt for a killer is intertwined with the developing relationship between Nadia and Jack, the exploration of the underworld of killers for hire, and the revelation of the events in Nadia's past that have brought her to this particular place and time.

Kelley Armstrong is a smart writer. She knows when to push the action of the story ahead, and when to travel down the side roads to reveal motivation and depth. And this? This all delights me.

I'm glad to be enjoying Armstrong's writing again, and I am looking forward to seeing where she takes Nadia and her world next.

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