Poison Evidence (Evidence #7) by Rachel Grant

poison-evidence2

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It was supposed to be paradise…

Ivy MacLeod has the perfect opportunity to test her advanced remote sensing technology: mapping a World War II battle site in the islands of Palau. The project is more than an all-expenses-paid trip to paradise. It’s also an opportunity to distance her reputation from her traitorous ex-husband. But foreign intelligence agencies will kill to possess her invention, and paradise turns deadly when her ex-husband’s vicious allies attack. In desperation, she turns to Air Force pilot Jack Keaton. But is he the bigger threat? Jack might be protecting her as he claims…or he could be a foreign agent. Her compass is skewed by his magnetic pull and further thrown off when she learns her own government has betrayed her. Stranded on a tropical island with a man whose motives remain a mystery, Ivy must decide who is the spy, who is the protector, and who is the ultimate villain. She longs to trust the man who rescued her, but she’s risking more than her heart. Choose right, and she saves her country’s secrets—and her life. Choose wrong—and she risks nothing short of all-out war.

Rating: A-

Poison Evidence is the latest (seventh) book in Rachel Grant’s Evidence series of Romantic Suspense novels, and in it, she looks at the fascinating world of the technology of intelligence gathering and surveillance and how it can be used and adapted by academics seeking to study and enlighten as well as by those using it for far murkier purposes.

I have only read a couple of the books in the series so far, and one of the things I’ve really enjoyed is how the author has incorporated her own background and love of history and archaeology into the stories by having her heroines work in those particular fields, albeit in very diverse ways. I recently read book four, Incriminating Evidence, in which the heroine is an archaeologist who does all her own leg-work in her search for evidence of ancient settlements; here, Ivy MacLeod is a self-confessed tech-geek whose expertise is in geological archaeology and whose recent project of creating CAM – a complex computerised mapping system using infrared and Lidar (a detection system similar to Radar, but which uses lasers) is about to undergo its first field-test.

As this is number seven in a long-running series, this review may contain spoilers for the earlier books.

The past two years have been a really tough time for Ivy. A couple of years back, her husband, Patrick Hill, was exposed as a traitor and arms trafficker who sold weapons to Russian Mafiosa and Islamic terrorist groups; and his arrest and their divorce dragged Ivy’s name through the mud, too. Ivy was not involved with Hill’s treachery, but with the trial about to start, media attention has begun to swing towards her again, even though she is currently half a world away from the US, about to begin mapping a World War II battle site off the coast of a small island in Micronesia.

At a government reception on Palau, Ivy is pleased to see that Jack Keaton – whom she’s nicknamed “Death Valley”, because he’s just that hot! – is also in attendance. In the two years since her life blew up in her face, she hasn’t been interested in men or sex, but over the last few days, the sight of a shirtless Jack, all toned muscle and sleek, smooth skin as he worked on deck of his charter yacht, seems to have re-ignited her libido, so she’s more than happy when he rescues her from the arsehole official who insists on making snide remarks about her ex and speculating on her level of involvement with his illegal activities.

It’s not long after Ivy and Jack have made their way into the garden when all hell breaks loose and the party is crashed by a group of terrorists – her ex-husband’s allies who are out to get their hands on CAM. Jack acts quickly, disposing of as many of the men as he can and then getting Ivy to safety aboard his yacht. Once they’re safe, the adrenaline rush only serves to intensify the attraction that has already been pulsing between them; Ivy hasn’t been with a man since her divorce and Jack is the only one she has wanted in all that time. The sex is hot, frantic and intensely satisfying – even as Jack knows that in the morning, he’s going to have to do something completely despicable.

Because Jack isn’t Jack at all.  He’s Dimitri Veselov, a Russian spy embedded and brought up in the US since his early teens.  He appeared in the previous book in the series, Cold Evidence, where he helped Luke Sevick (the hero of that book) to prevent a disaster that could have killed millions and wiped out a large part of the Pacific Northwest.  Jack/Dimitri disappeared after that, hoping against hope that he would be presumed dead, but that proved not to be the case, and his Russian puppet-masters are once again pulling the strings.  If he is ever to secure the release of the two people most dear to him in the world – his younger sister and her son – he must retrieve a prototype Russian surveillance drone that disappeared somewhere near Palau.

Access to CAM is vital if Dimitri is to carry out his mission, but he has to have Ivy’s help as well, as CAM is biometrically coded to her and she is the only person who knows how to operate it.  When she finds out that Jack isn’t who she’d believed him to be she is horrified to discover that she’s fallen victim to yet another deceitful bastard.  But Dimitri insists that his actions in getting her away have protected both her and the technology, and that he has no intention of harming her.  He can’t risk telling her exactly what is at stake for him, but he tries to show her by his words and deeds that he really is doing as he says and trying to keep her safe.

Without giving too much away, Ivy does come to see that Dimitri isn’t one of the bad guys and agrees to help him. Along the way, here’s plenty of action, tech-geekery, steamy sex scenes and a final twist I absolutely didn’t see coming that had my heart breaking for Dimitri as he discovers the depths of the deception that has been practiced upon him for almost his entire life.

There’s a lot going on in this story and quite a few characters from other novels in the series make cameo appearances, most notably Luke Sevick, Ian Boyd (Covert Evidence) and Curt and Mara Dominick (Body of Evidence).  But the author has included enough information about these people and how they all relate to each other for this book to work perfectly well as a standalone.  In fact, she’s done her job so well that I’m now planning to read them all so I can experience all those stories for myself.  The plot is extremely well-constructed and Ms. Grant’s knowledge of and love of her subject shines through as does the fact that her research into the sorts of technology featured in the story (which is mostly fictional – at the moment!) has been meticulous.  The characterisation of the two leads is excellent and the chemistry between them is smoking hot, from that first, fiery hook-up through the cat-and-mouse games they play as they metaphorically circle each other and try to work out exactly how far they can trust each other – if at all – to the deepening of the emotional bond that has been there almost from the start.  As Rike pointed out in her review of Cold Evidence, Ms. Grant can write a sex scene that scorches the pages but can also write one that shows a growing connection between the lovers that is truly romantic.

The novel’s pacing and the balance between thriller and romance is just about perfect. At no point did I ever feel as though one element was overshadowing the other, and I also enjoyed the archaeological and historical parts of the story.  Poison Evidence was pretty impossible to put down, which is exactly what one wants in a romantic thriller, and I have no hesitation in recommending it highly.

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