Her Deadly Secrets (Wolfe Security #2) by Laura Griffin

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She alone may hold the key to finding a vicious murderer…

Private investigator Kira Vance spends her days navigating the intricate labyrinth of Houston’s legal world. But, however shadowy its players and dark its secrets, the last thing she expects is for a meeting with her top client to end in a bloodbath. The police have no suspects but one thing is clear: a killer has Kira in his sights.

Fiercely independent, Kira doesn’t expect – or want – help from anyone, least of all an unscrupulous lawyer and his elite security team. Instead, she launches her own investigation, hoping to uncover the answers that have eluded the police.

But as Kira’s hunt for clues becomes more and more perilous, she realizes that she must take help wherever she can find it if she wants to stay alive…

Rating: B-

Her Deadly Secrets is the second in Laura Griffin’s Wolfe Securityseries which débuted last year with Desperate Girls.  Unlike the author’s long-running Tracers series, in which the stories revolve around the workings of a high-tech crime lab, and thus have a strong focus on forensics, the Wolfe Security novels feature the operatives of an elite private security company and their protectees, and have more of a straightforward murder/mystery vibe.  I’ve enjoyed a number of books by this author, but while the suspense storyline in this one is well-done, the romance is really disappointing and quite honestly, the story would have worked perfectly well without it.

Kira Vance is a hard-working private investigator with a number of cases and clients on her books,  the most important of which is the one she’s working on for her mentor, Ollie Kovak, whose services are used regularly by the high-end Huston law firm of Logan & Locke.  Brock Logan, well known for defending wealthy people accused of serious crimes, is defending Gavin Quinn, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, and Ollie has asked Kira to meet him at Logan’s house in order to review an important break in the case.  Kira hasn’t been there long when all hell breaks loose;  someone comes in the front door, shoots and kills Ollie, shoots at Logan and Kira and then gathers up as many of their phones, files and laptops as possible before getting out.

Though shaken, Kira is determined not to fall apart, and equally determined to find out who killed Ollie and why.  The stolen laptops and files must mean that the killer was after information relating to the Quinn case – but Kira has no idea what exactly Ollie had been working on before his death or what information he’d wanted to pass on to her that evening.  The one thing she’s does know is that finding answers to both those questions is imperative if she’s to get to the truth.

Logan asks Kira to take over from Ollie on the Quinn case, and after she agrees, informs her that now she’s part of his team, she’ll be accorded the same sort of round-the-clock protection as the rest of them.  Kira isn’t at all happy about this; she has to be able to act independently and spontaneously in order to do her job so the last thing she needs is to be followed around by guys who “look like the Avengers.”  But she agrees reluctantly, intending to bend the rules if necessary.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

When Death Meets the Devil (Death and the Devil #1) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

where death meets the devil

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.

Blade is everything Jack doesn’t believe in: remorseless, detached, lawless. Yet, Jack’s only chance to survive is to strike a bargain with the devil and join forces with Blade. As they trek across a hostile desert, Jack learns that Blade is much more than a dead-eyed killer – and harder to resist than he should be.

A year later, Jack is home and finally getting his life on track. Then Ethan Blade reappears and throws it all into chaos once more. It’s impossible to trust the assassin, especially when his presence casts doubts on Jack’s loyalty to his country, but Jack cannot ignore what Blade’s return means: the mess that brought them together is far from over, and Ethan might just bring back the piece of Jack’s soul he thought he’d lost forever.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A

I’ve been looking for something to fill the Seven of Spades-shaped hole in my life, so I was delighted to discover L.J. Hayward’s Where Death Meets the Devil, book one in her Death and the Devil series. In it, a former SAS officer and a deadly assassin end up striking the devil’s own bargain when they’re forced to work together in order to survive a trek across the hostile Australian desert while evading a shit-ton of mercenaries in the pay of a dangerous mob boss.

Where Death Meets the Devil opens on probably the crappiest birthday ever for Jack Reardon, who, instead of partying, drinking of lots of beer and stuffing his face with cake, finds himself tied to a chair in a shack in the middle of the back of beyond. He’s an operative of the Office of Counterterrorism and Intelligence – known simply as The Office – run by the Meta-State, a top secret intelligence network stretching across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries which share information and resources to combat national and international terrorism; and for the last fifteen months he’s been working undercover in the criminal organisation run by Samuel Valadian in an attempt to find proof of his association with terrorist groups around the world. But someone has alerted Valadian to the presence of a spy in their midst – hence Jack’s current predicament. He tries to brazen it out, but when Valadian calmly introduces his associate Ethan Blade – one of the world’s deadliest, most ruthless killers – Jack figures his luck has run out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Prince of Killers (Fog City #1) by Layla Reyne

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No indiscriminate killing. No collateral damage. No unvetted targets.

These are the rules Hawes Madigan lives by. Rules that make being Fog City’s Prince of Killers bearable. Soon, he’ll be king–of an organization of assassins–and the crown has never felt heavier. Until the mysterious Dante Perry swaggers into his life.

Dante looks like a rock god and carries himself like one too, all loose-limbed and casually confident. He also carries a concealed weapon, a private investigator’s license, and a message for the prince. Someone inside Hawes’s organization is out to kill the future king.

In the chaos that follows the timely warning, Hawes comes to depend on Dante. On his skills as an investigator, on the steadiness he offers, and on their moments alone when Hawes lets Dante take control. As alliances are tested and traitors exposed, Hawes needs Dante at his back and in his bed. But if the PI ever learns Hawes’s darkest secret, Hawes is sure to get a knife to the heart – and a bullet to the brain – instead.

Rating: C+

Prince of Killers is the first in a new trilogy of romantic suspense novels from Layla Reyne. Set in and around San Francisco, and focuses on a family that made its name and fortune from organised crime but which, owing to a tragic incident a few years earlier, is changing direction and turning its hand towards legitimate business… and vigilante justice.

The novel is fairly short, clocking in at around 200 pages (according to Amazon) and it does a decent job of introducing the overarching plot that will run throughout the trilogy and the major players.  Hawes Madigan is the heir to the organised crime empire built and run by his terminally ill grandfather.  Together with his younger (by two minutes) twin brother Holt and their sister Helena, he has been running MCS (Madigan Cold Storage) for the past five years, and is now facing the prospect of fully stepping into his grandfather’s shoes, as the man doesn’t have long left to live.  A man in his position naturally has many enemies, which is why he’s sceptical when he receives information from enigmatic private investigator Dante Perry that someone is trying to kill him.  The difference is, however, that Dante believes it’s someone from within Hawes’ organisation.

Hawes quickly discovers that Dante’s information was accurate when two of his trusted lieutenants turn on him later that very day – and would quite possibly have succeeded in killing him had it not been for Dante turning up out of the shadows to save Hawes’ life.  From here on in, Hawes finds himself starting to… if not completely trust Dante, then coming to depend on him to have his back and provide the sort of stabilising influence Hawes so desperately needs at this point in his life.  Losing their parents fairly young, the Madigan siblings were brought up by their grandparents and, as the eldest, Hawes has been groomed to one day take over the ‘family firm’.  But something happened three years earlier that made him decide to get out of the business of indiscriminate killing and clearly there are those within the company who are not happy about this new direction.  So what with preparing to say goodbye to his grandfather, continuing with his plans to dismantle certain parts of the business, and his priority of protecting his family at all costs, Hawes carries a huge burden of responsibility, and the prospect of at last having someone who can help lift those burdens, even for a little while is an undeniably attractive one.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Hidden (Deep Ops #1) by Rebecca Zanetti (audiobook) – Narrated by Roger Wayne

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Hide. That’s all Pippa can do to escape the terror chasing her. But now that she’s off the grid in a safe house, she finds plenty of interesting things to watch through the window. Like her new neighbor, with his startling green eyes, killer smile, and sexy bad-boy tattoo . . .

Run. Malcolm West is fleeing the hell he unleashed in his last assignment as an undercover cop. A backwoods bungalow sounds like the perfect place to start over. Until he discovers he’s been set up . . .

Fight. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to bring them together. No matter how much he resents that, and his own driving needs, Malcolm will have to dig deep and let loose the banished killer inside himself, or Pippa’s fears could come true faster than the flip of a bolt in a lock . . .

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B-

Hidden is the first book in the new Deep Ops series of romantic suspense novels by Rebecca Zanetti, an author whose work I’ve not yet read or listened to. The series features the somewhat rag-taggle group of hand-picked operatives who make up the newly created Requisition Force (and yes, we do learn the reason behind the name!), a branch of the Homeland Defense Department.

Former cop Malcom West spent much of his career working undercover and acquired a reputation for being the very best at what he did. But years spent living that way have taken their toll, and his previous assignment, during which he became close to someone he was then forced to kill, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and he retired from the force, intending to spend some time dealing with the emotional fallout of that situation, regrouping and deciding what he wants to do next. As part of that plan, Mal has purchased a new house in a quiet neighbourhood – and has absolutely no idea that he’s been skilfully manoeuvred into moving in next door to someone who is suspected of having links to an organisation planning a terrorist attack.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Dark Bones by Loreth Anne White

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She’s come back to solve the mystery of her father’s death and confront her own dark past.

When Detective Rebecca North left her rural hometown, she vowed never to return. Her father’s apparent suicide has changed that. The official report is that retired cop Noah North shot himself, knocked over a lantern, and set his isolated cabin ablaze. But Rebecca cannot believe he killed himself.

To prove it, she needs the help of Ash Haugen, the man she left behind. But Rebecca and Ash share more than broken hearts. Something darker lies between them, and the investigation is stirring it back to life. Clues lead them to the home of Olivia West and her deeply troubled twelve-year-old daughter, Tori. The child knows more about the murder than anyone can imagine, but she’s too terrified to say a word.

And as a cold-blooded killer resurfaces from the past, Rebecca and Ash begin to fear that their own secrets may be even harder to survive.

Rating: B+

When I picked up Loreth Anne White’s The Dark Bones for review, I wasn’t aware that it was linked to one of her earlier books, A Dark Lure, in which a young woman who was abducted and repeatedly assaulted is making a new life for herself in rural Canada only to have to face the prospect that her abductor may still be at large.  But never fear; it’s perfectly possible to read The Dark Bones as a standalone as the author brings new readers quickly up to speed, and the plots in both books are self-contained, so there’s no real overlap.

When Rebecca North left her small Canadian home town, she moved to Ottawa, where she has built herself a successful career in the white-collar crimes unit with the RCMP.  She hasn’t been home in years and doesn’t have plans to do so, until her father, a retired police officer – calls her out of the blue to tell her that he knows she was lying about an event that happened twenty years earlier, and that he needs to talk to her urgently.  He’s clearly drunk – he’s rarely been sober since the death of his wife – and Rebecca’s about to go into court, so she puts him off, promising she’ll  call him soon… but she can’t put his words out of her mind.  Her father is referring to the day she’d found the man she loved stumbling along a country road, bruised and bloody, a long gash down one side of his face he’d attributed to a riding accident – but why is he asking about it now?

The next day, Noah North is found dead in his home, all the evidence pointing to his having set fire to his remote cabin and then shot himself.  The police are convinced it’s suicide, and the coroner’s report seems to bear that out, but Rebecca isn’t satisfied.  Her father may have been overly fond of drink, but she doesn’t believe he was suicidal, especially given what he’d said the last time they’d spoken; that he’d found new evidence in an old case he’d worked – and that he thought he was being watched.  She decides to do a bit of investigating of her own, and in the process discovers that her father was looking into the disappearance, twenty years earlier, of an old schoolmate of hers.  Evidence given at the time said that Whitney Gagnon and her boyfriend were seen getting onto the bus heading out of town – but it seems that evidence was false, and Noah was convinced that the young couple were killed before they could leave.  If that’s true – who murdered them and why?  And could someone have killed Noah because he was getting too close to the truth?

This cold case stirs up a myriad of long-buried feelings for Rebecca, not least of which is guilt over the fact she didn’t visit her father often because she couldn’t bear to run into her former boyfriend Ash Haugen, the man she loved, and the man who broke her heart twenty years earlier.  Now she’s back, and meeting Ash is unavoidable – but more than that, it seems that every investigative road leads to him. He was the last person to have seen Noah North alive – and some witnesses suggest they were arguing – and she can’t ignore Noah’s words during that final call “he lied – you both lied”. Because while Rebecca’s lie backed up Ash’s about the riding accident, he never told her the truth about the injury to his face – which was sustained the very same day Whitney and her boyfriend were seen getting ready to leave town.

I was completely engrossed by the storyline of The Dark Bones and by the way the author so skilfully juxtaposes past and present events, giving us glimpses – in flashback – of the events of twenty years before, and linking them to the current investigation into Noah North’s death.  Her descriptions of the landscape of this area of rural Canada are incredibly vivid, enabling the reader to easily picture the locations she describes, and her portrait of small town life – where everyone knows everyone else and one only has to sneeze to have three people on the doorstep proffering hot soup and Lemsip within the hour – is simultaneously charming, menacing and claustrophobic.  I liked Rebecca and Ash, although I never felt I got to know them deeply; Rebecca fled when Ash broke her heart but never really got over him, while Ash was forced to give up on his dreams because of a single mistake that changed the course of his life.  The strong undercurrent of deep longing and hurt running between them is palpable from the moment they see each other again; and while I’m often sceptical of stories in which romantic feelings endure for years even when the couple in question doesn’t see each other throughout their separation, the strength of the connection between Rebecca and Ash practically leaps off the page and helped me to get past my usual side-eye of the trope.   In fact my main criticism of the book stems from the fact that I’d have liked a little more exploration of their relationship in the now, especially in the light of what we learn about Ash’s difficult past.

The pacing in the first part of the novel is perhaps a little slow, but I didn’t find that to be a problem at all; in fact, I really appreciated the time spent on setting up the situations and introducing the secondary cast (some of whom were central to A Dark Lure, which I intend to pick up as soon as I can).  The Dark Bones is a wonderfully atmospheric, multi-layered and well-constructed mystery from a real master of her craft; it will draw you in and keep you intrigued from first page to last.

Orientation (Borealis Investigations #1) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.

Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.

An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

Rating: B+

Orientation is the first book in a new series of mysteries by Gregory Ashe, and in it, he introduces us to North McKinney and Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich, who own and run a detective agency in St. Louis.  They’ve been friends – best friends – since college even though they couldn’t be more different.  North is from a blue collar family – his father was a construction worker and North himself worked on a fair few building sites before college – while Shaw was born with a whole set of silver spoons in his mouth, and dropped out of college after he was the victim of a hate crime that left him badly injured and killed his then (and first ever) boyfriend.  Even though the perpetrator was subsequently arrested and imprisoned, Shaw has never been sure the right man was convicted, and that – and his experience as a victim of crime – is one of the things that prompted him to become a private investigator.

The author very quickly establishes the nature and strength of the relationship between the two men.  North is gruff, down to earth and often treats Shaw with the kind of affectionate exasperation usually afforded to siblings, while Shaw is inquisitive, bright and enthusiastic with a kind of wide-eyed innocence about him unusual for a man in his mid-twenties.  They’ve got a bit of an odd-couple dynamic going on (Shaw is the ridiculously messy one while North likes things just so), and when they’re working or in a tight spot their banter is so smooth that they practically finish each other’s sentences.  They may be opposites in many ways, but they’re on the same mental wavelength and it’s clear that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another.  It’s also clear they’ve got it pretty bad for each other and have spent years hiding it; North is married (not too happily as becomes apparent as the story progresses) and thinks Shaw only sees him as an obnoxious brother, while Shaw is still struggling, almost eight years after the attack, to trust a man enough to go out on a date with him; and even were that not the case, North is off-limits and doesn’t think of him that way anyway.

The firm they run together, Borealis Investigations, hit a rough patch a few months earlier following a case which saw North shooting a suspect in order to save Shaw’s life. Not only has North’s PI license has been suspended pending appeal, the suspect then dragged him into a costly lawsuit. They haven’t had a case in months, but things start to take an upturn when an attractive, nervous young man makes his way into the office looking for Shaw and asks for help.  North is immediately on his guard, and not just because he sees straight away that the guy has the sort of lost-puppy thing going on that will appeal to Shaw’s protective instincts – and doesn’t like it.  When Matty Fennmore haltingly explains he’s sought them out because he’s being blackmailed, North  – quite sensibly – doesn’t want to go near the case and suggests Matty should go to the police.  But when Matty goes into detail – telling them how he’s been so scared of coming out because of his ultra-religious family and how he can’t go to the police because that will make everything public and his parents will find out –  North knows he’s lost the battle.  Shaw is clearly smitten as well as outraged on Matty’s behalf and reminds North that they need clients and that people like Matty are why they started Borealis in the first place, to help people nobody else can or will help.  North is forced to admit that Shaw is right about one thing – they do need the work.  But he doesn’t have to like it.

As their investigation progresses, North and Shaw gradually realise that there’s more going on than a single act of blackmail, and that the recordings are being used to control and manipulate important people across the city. When Matty is attacked and their main suspect turns up dead it’s clear that the blackmailer is becoming desperate and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect their ‘investment’. But potentially damning information from an unexpected quarter suddenly turns everything on its head and throws a live grenade into the middle of Shaw and North’s friendship which leaves them both devastated. Will they be able to solve the case, repair their tattered relationship… and come out of it alive?

Mr. Ashe has penned an intriguing, gritty mystery which progresses at a good pace and features some colourful and intriguing supporting characters. But as with his earlier Detectives Hazard and Somerset series, the big draw is the likeable, complex but flawed leads and the complicated relationship between them that runs a true gamut of emotion and oozes UST like there’s no tomorrow. There’s obviously a great deal of affection there and the guys know each other extremely well, but there are some things about each other they’ve got completely wrong – and I don’t just mean because neither of them has twigged how the other feels about him. Although the story is told in dual PoVs, Orientation focuses a little more on Shaw than on North, on showing readers who he is, how the trauma he suffered has affected him and on exploring his feelings for North and their relationship. We get similar insights from North’s perspective, too, although we don’t learn as much about his life outside of his work; up until a certain point, we only know he’s married, he’s not happy and that he’s keeping something – something big – from Shaw. The author drip feeds various pieces of information about their lives together – the attack Shaw barely survived, the shooting that may have sunk North’s career, and their friendship over the years – but I don’t think he’s given us the full picture yet and I can’t wait to find out more.

The blackmailer plot is wrapped up by the end of the novel, so it works as a standalone although the final chapter sets up what I suspect may be an overarching plotline. I continue to be impressed with the quality of Mr. Ashe’s writing, his insight into character and motivation, and his ability to create memorable characters you can’t help but want to spend time with while at the same time wanting to bang their heads together! North and Shaw have just the sort of angsty, screwed-up relationship that I can’t resist and I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment of their story. Orientation is an absorbing start to a promising new series and a great place to jump in with this author if you’ve never read his work before.

Hard Target (Cobra Elite #1) by Pamela Clare

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A life debt…

Derek Tower has spent his life at war, first as a Green Beret and then as the owner of a private military company, Cobra International Security. When a high-ranking US senator asks Cobra to protect his daughter, a midwife volunteering in Afghanistan, Derek’s gut tells him to turn the senator down. The last thing he wants to do is babysit an aid worker. But Jenna isn’t just another assignment. She’s also the younger sister of his best friend, the man who died taking bullets meant for him. There’s no way Derek can refuse.

An inescapable attraction…

Jenna Hamilton doesn’t need a bodyguard, especially not one hired by her intrusive and controlling father. She knew the risks when she signed on to work in rural Afghanistan, and the hospital already has armed security. She also doesn’t need the distraction of a big, brooding operative skulking about, even if he is her late brother’s best friend—and sexy as hell. As far as she’s concerned, he can pack up his Humvee and drive into the sunset. And, no, nothing her hormones have to say about him will change her mind.

A merciless enemy…

From the moment his boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, Derek does his best to win Jenna over, posing as her brother so the two of them can spend time alone. Except that what he feels for her is anything but brotherly. Stolen moments lead to secret kisses—and an undeniable sexual attraction that shakes them both to the core. But events have been set into motion that they cannot escape. When a ruthless warlord sets his sights on Jenna, Derek will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, even if it costs him his heart—or his life.

Rating: B-

Hard Target is the first book in a new series of romantic suspense novels from popular author Pamela Clare featuring the men (and maybe women?) who work for Cobra International Security, the high-end security firm owned and run by Derek Tower, who was a recurring character in the author’s earlier I-Team series.  I confess that I haven’t read any of those books yet, so I was pleased to be able to jump in on the ground floor with this new series. Hard Target is an exciting, fast-paced read set mostly in Afghanistan, a country that is still unstable and tearing itself apart, and the author does a great job of showing just how dangerous it can be and how people like the heroine – who have gone there to help – walk a tightrope every day in order to do their jobs and stay safe.

Derek Tower is furious when he receives a call from Senator Hamilton, demanding Derek personally brings his daughter – currently working as a midwife in Afghanistan – home to the US.  The senator sits on the Armed Services Committee and thus has the ability to make life very difficult for Derek and his company, but even so, Derek refuses to be intimidated.  He can’t just kidnap a US citizen and tells Hamilton so – but he agrees to fly to the hospital Jenna Hamilton works at to see if he can persuade her to come back to the States.  But he doesn’t do it for Hamilton or for Cobra. He does it because Jenna’s brother had been Derek’s best friend when they were both green berets, and had died saving Derek’s life.  He owes it to him to try to keep his little sister safe – although he doesn’t hold out much hope of being able to persuade the young woman to return with him.

And he’s not wrong in that.  Jenna is six months into her two-year contract working  with and helping to train badly needed midwives, as well as running in education and outreach programs to help women to understand more about the changes their bodies undergo during pregnancy.  Jenna is a spirited, independent woman who refuses to let her father dictate her life any more, and is determined to see out her contract and refuses to budge.  She’s doing good, much needed work; she’s saving lives and hopefully more will be saved in the future and she’s not about to give it up because her controlling father insists she should be sitting at home waiting to get married.

When Derek tells Hamilton Jenna refuses to come home, the senator goes ballistic – and then Derek finds out that he’s fired Cobra from the job. He decides to stay for a while longer – on his own dime – to watch out for Jenna. Her father wasn’t wrong when he said that extremists had been known to kill midwives, and now he’s got a feel for the situation at the Kazi Women’s Hospital, he’s reluctant to leave. When Jenna gets herself into hot water by arguing in favour of a life-saving procedure for one of her patients – a girl of twelve whose body isn’t mature enough to be able to bear her child – Derek and the head of hospital security manage to smooth things over… but it’s a close-run thing.

I found the aspect of the story that addresses the situation facing women in Afghanistan really compelling – as well as depressing – as I read about the way women are treated in this once enlightened country, deprived of education, forced to stay indoors, isolated from the world, their lives controlled entirely by men. When Jenna gets into trouble over the twelve-year-old girl, it’s not because she is rude, but because she dares to speak to another woman – the girl’s mother-in-law – in the presence of a number of men to whom she is not related. As one of Jenna’s students says, “it is better to be a goat in Afghanistan than a woman.”

I was thoroughly caught up in the plot, in which the author creates an atmosphere of uncertainty with a real sense of imminent danger that kept me invested in the story and wanting to know what was going to happen next. Unfortunately, however, the romance in the novel is almost non-existent; Derek and Jenna are instantly attracted to one another, and although Derek has to go through all that ‘shagging my best friend’s little sister would be breaking the Man Code’ and ‘I don’t do relationships’ stuff – none of it stops them from getting down to business at the first available opportunity. It’s clear they like and respect each other – which is as good a basis for a relationship as any – but there’s nothing much beyond that; there’s no real emotional connection between them and not a great deal of chemistry either.

For the first three-quarters of the way through the book, I was confident I’d be awarding Hard Target a solid B grade, due entirely to the well-conceived and executed suspense plot and interesting background. Ms. Clare is a veteran of the romantic suspense genre and really knows how to write an exciting action sequence, and it’s clear she’s done her homework on current Afghan society and on the science of midwifery. The trouble is, however, that when she turns her focus to the romance in the last quarter of the novel, the pacing collapses faster than an undercooked soufflé. And because I didn’t feel there was much between Derek and Jenna other than a healthy dose of lust, I wasn’t particularly invested in the outcome of their (not)romance.

So I knocked off half a grade point for the fact that the romance (such as it was) failed to capture my interest. If you’re a fan of the author’s, or if you like your romantic suspense much lighter on the romance than the suspense then Hard Target is probably worth a look.