Cold As Ice (Cold Justice – The Negotiators #5) by Toni Anderson (audiobook) – Narrated by Eric G. Dove

cold as ice Anderson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Darby O’Roarke wakes up in a strange house with a dead man – with no memory of what happened – she knows who she has to call: FBI Supervisory Special Agent Eban Winters…the man she fell for, and who rejected her, last summer.

A negotiator isn’t supposed to get involved with kidnap victims, and Eban has been trying to avoid the temptation that is Darby O’Roarke ever since they met. One frantic phone call has him racing to Alaska to uncover the truth, but he faces stubborn opposition from the local police, and a growing media frenzy.

Getting Darby released from jail and keeping her safe is his first priority. When another woman is brutally slain, evidence emerges that suggests Darby is being framed, and that the culprit is a vicious serial killer who has eluded the FBI for more than a decade…and, now, the killer has Darby in their sights.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

In this fifth instalment of Toni Anderson’s Cold Justice: The Negotiators series, we catch up with a couple of the secondary characters from a previous book in the series. In book two, (Colder Than Sin) CNU (Crisis Negotiation Unit) operative Eban Winters had been part of the team sent to effect the rescue of Darby O’Roarke, an American Ph.D student in Indonesia who was kidnapped and held hostage by an extremist group and subjected to violence and sexual abuse. (Note: this story references Darby’s experiences several times, although there is nothing graphic on the page). Since surviving her ordeal, Darby has, with the help of extensive therapy, been putting her life back together and has resumed her studies (she’s a volcanologist) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

When Cold as Ice begins, Darby is waking up in strange surroundings, her mind a bit foggy, and it takes her a while to work out where she is. She remembers being at a party with colleagues the previous evening, and is and lying on a sofa in someone’s living room, relieved to find herself fully dressed. Darby then recognises the room as belonging to a fellow grad student, Martin Carstairs, and recalls dancing with him and a group of friends at the party and generally having fun – but she doesn’t have any recollection of much after that, and has no idea how she got to Martin’s place. Maybe she had too much to drink and he was looking out for her? Trying to get her mind straight, she tidies up a little and then makes her way cautiously upstairs to see if Martin is in the house. He is. On his bed. With a hunting knife sticking out of his chest.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cold Cruel Kiss (Cold Justice: Crossfire #4) by Toni Anderson

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When the daughter of the US Ambassador to Argentina is kidnapped in broad daylight on Christmas Eve, the FBI sends one of its best negotiators to investigate.

Supervisory Special Agent Max Hawthorne arrives at an embassy thrown into chaos as US and local law enforcement hustle to track the young woman. Is this a simple kidnap for ransom, or part of a political agenda? Could it be something more sinister?

Lucy Aston has something to hide. Preferring to stay in the shadows, the lowly, fashion-challenged office assistant resents being assigned to help Max. But Max can’t resist a puzzle…he’s starting to suspect Lucy Aston is not what she seems.

When rumors emerge of a suspected Russian spy operating out of the embassy, Lucy’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble. As she and Max race to rescue the ambassador’s daughter, Lucy has to do whatever it takes to keep her cover from being blown—even if that means betraying the man she’s falling for.

Rating: A-

Book four in Toni Anderson’s Cold Justice: Crossfire series, Cold Cruel Kiss is a nail-bitingly tense, superbly plotted romantic suspense novel set in Buenos Aires, which finds Supervisory Special Agent Max Hawthorne of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit called in after the seventeen-year-old daughter of the US Ambassador to Argentina is kidnapped whilst on a Christmas Eve shopping trip. I’ve read or listened to the other books in this series (and to some of the earlier Cold Justice series) and this is the best yet; it’s clever and perfectly paced with a few good twists and turns and a couple of engaging leads whose romance, while fairly low key, nonetheless hums with chemistry.

British transplant Max Hawthorne – a former SAS officer – is on holiday in Cartagena when he gets the call to head to the US Embassy in Buenos Aires to co-ordinate the operation to ensure the release of Kristen Dickerson and her friend, Irene Lomakin, who was abducted alongside Kristen off a busy shopping street in broad daylight.  Max arrives to find chaos – and knows he’s got to perform a difficult balancing act; his priority is the safety of the two girls and getting them back, but this being an Ambassadorial family adds so many other potential problems to the mix.  The political angle, the need to keep the various agencies involved co-operating – and the fact that the Legal Attaché (the FBI representative abroad) is working on some big hush-hush operation that may or may not complicate things further;  the whole situation has the potential to go wrong for more than just the Ambassador and her family.

Max is immediately intrigued by one of the Embassy staff – Lucy Aston, assistant to the Ambassador’s PA – whom he senses is deliberately hiding in plain sight.  He can’t help wondering exactly why, but doesn’t really have the time to do more than wonder about it, as he’s caught up in meetings and setting up an operations centre… until later that day when Lucy is assigned to drive him wherever he needs to go.

Former CIA operative Lucy Aston has turned being unnoticeable into an art form following a devastating betrayal fifteen months earlier, when the man she fell in love with turned out to be a Russian agent.  Compromising photos and videos are now being used to blackmail her for information – although she’s sure nothing she’s given up so far could have anything to do with the kidnapping.  But the knowledge that those images have probably been seen by many people without her permission has destroyed her confidence and left her feeling vulnerable and violated, and now she goes out of her way to make herself as inconspicuous as possible, dying her hair a mousy brown, hiding behind big glasses and wearing clothes that are as unflattering as possible.  Usually she just fades into the background and nobody ever gives her a second look – until Max Hawthorne arrives and very quickly intuits that Lucy is not quite what she seems.

Lucy – who speaks fluent Spanish – ends up working with Max as he searches for information that could help them locate the girls as well as help in his negotiations, and a tentative friendship forms between them.  Lucy hasn’t been attracted to a man since her disastrous liaison with Sergio Raminsky, but Max’s kindness, his innate decency and trustworthiness draw her to him every bit as much as his handsome face and gorgeous body. And Max is intrigued by the embassy ‘mouse’ who can keep up with him at a run and can drop-kick a thug like a pro, and wants to know more about the woman who hides her intelligence, competence and humour behind such a drab exterior.

The suspense plot is complex and really well-constructed, with seemingly disparate plot threads gradually drawn together until they merge into one.  It’s thoroughly engrossing – once things kicked into gear, I couldn’t put the book down – but there are a lot of moving parts and I had to pause for breath once or twice just to remind myself who was who and who was working for whom!

We get several chapters from the points of view of the kidnapped girls, who, despite being terrified, manage to keep their wits about them and never once think about abandoning each other; they’re wonderfully resilient characters who are determined to fight to the end.  There’s no graphic violence, but there are a couple of violent scenes – one an attempted assault – and some detail of the conditions in which they’re kept that some readers may find upsetting.

I always say I like romantic suspense to have a good balance of both elements – but there are times when I get so swept up in a book’s storyline that the imbalance doesn’t really matter, and that’s the case here.  The romance takes a back-seat to the suspense plot, but it didn’t bother me; the mutual attraction between Lucy and Max is nicely realised (and thankfully without all the endless mental-lusting that is so prevalent in romance novels nowadays), and given that the story takes place over just a few days and both characters have priorities other than getting it on – priorities that really could mean life-or-death –  I actually liked that they weren’t declaring their undying love at the end, but were rather deciding they wanted to give a relationship a try.  It’s a strong HFN which works much better in context than a hearts-and-flowers HEA would have done.

Heart-pounding action, pulsing attraction, spooks, conspiracies, betrayal, political wrangling; Cold Cruel Kiss has it all and Toni Anderson moulds it into a terrific read and one of the best romantic suspense stories I’ve read in a while. Fans of the genre should definitely consider checking it out.

Cold Wicked Lies (Cold Justice: Crossfire #3) by Toni Anderson (audiobook) – Narrated by Eric G. Dove

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In an effort to halt an armed standoff, FBI negotiator Charlotte Blood tries to unravel the mystery of a young woman’s death on a remote mountainside. Pity she has to fight her stubborn, sexy, Hostage Rescue Team counterpart every step of the way.

As a highly skilled operative, HRT leader Payne Novak doesn’t have time to play detective or make nice with killers who flout the law. His focus is getting inside the compound and ending the siege as quickly as possible.

Forced to work together, the battle-hardened HRT team leader and the quietly determined negotiator figure out they might have more in common than they anticipated. As the clock ticks, Charlotte discovers there are some dangers she can’t talk her way out of, and the race to unearth long-buried lies becomes a matter of survival for everyone on the mountain.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A-

Cold Wicked Lies is book three in Toni Anderson’s Cold Justice: Crossfire series, which is a spin-off from her long-running Cold Justice series. I recently listened to book one of the Crossfire books, Cold & Deadly, and thoroughly enjoyed it; I’ve leapfrogged over book two (which I intend to listen to very soon), but even though characters from other books do appear in others, all the books in both series work as standalones, so I had absolutely no trouble diving straight into this one.

The Crossfire series features characters who work as negotiators in the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, agents who are deployed to manage crisis situations and hopefully bring them to a peaceful resolution through negotiation and co-operation. In Cold Wicked Lies, the CNU is called to a remote mountainside location in Washington State to try to prevent an armed standoff between law enforcement and the inhabitants of a local survivalist compound. When TJ Harrison – son of the group’s leader – stumbles across the dead body of a young woman in the nearby woods, he is discovered by a Federal Wildlife Officer who clearly assumes he had something to do with her death. Scared, TJ runs back home followed by the FWO, who is shot and wounded by someone inside the compound. A gun battle between those on the inside and local Sheriffs and other FWOs ensued, and now the compound is locked down tight – and the last thing the FBI wants is another Waco or Ruby Ridge.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cold & Deadly (Cold Justice: Crossfire #1) by Toni Anderson (audiobook) – Narrated by Eric G. Dove

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Hostage negotiators can talk themselves out of anything – except falling in love.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dominic Sheridan is an accomplished expert in the Crisis Negotiation Unit. Practiced, professional, used to dealing with high-stakes situations under tense conditions, Dominic is a master at manipulating people. Everyone, that is, but the headstrong rookie agent bent on destroying her fledgling career.

As a child, Ava Kanas put her life on the line when the mob executed her father. Now someone has killed her mentor, the man who inspired her to become an FBI agent – and she’s the only one who recognizes it was anything but a tragic accident.

When another agent is murdered and Dominic nearly dies, it becomes obvious a serial killer is targeting the FBI. Together Dominic and Ava search for clues in the investigation, all the while fighting a forbidden attraction that will complicate everything, especially when the predator sets their sights on Ava.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Cold & Deadly is the first book in the spin off from Toni Anderson’s long-running Cold Justice series, Cold Justice: Crossfire, and it features characters who work as negotiators for the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, which conducts and manages on-scene negotiations during crisis events worldwide involving US citizens.  This is the first of Ms. Anderson’s books I’ve listened to – I’ve read others and have had some on my Audible wishlist for ages – and I was pleased to be able to jump in at the beginning of a series.  Narrator Eric G. Dove is new-to-me, but has almost 400 titles to his credit at Audible, so I had high hopes for both the story and the narration.

The book opens at the funeral of FBI Agent Van Stamos, who retired after thirty years of service four months earlier, then got blind drunk one night and accidentally shot himself.  Stamos was a father figure and mentor to many a rookie, including Supervisory Special Agent Dominic Sheridan, who became one of Van’s closest friends.  As friend and family mill around, Dominic is thinking about Van, and how this is the third funeral for a colleague out of the New York Field Office he’s attended in the last year – when the sound of an altercation attracts his attention. He can’t hear what’s being said, but Special Agent Ava Kanas is arguing with her boss (Van’s replacement) who clearly doesn’t want to hear what she has to say.  Years as one of the FBI’s top negotiators means Dominic is able to set his own grief and anger aside in order to diffuse the situation – but he isn’t quite prepared to hear what Kanas has to say, either.  She was one of Van’s protégés and was pretty close to him… and she is adamant that his death wasn’t an accident.  She believes he was murdered.  Dominic tries to point out that the man’s funeral isn’t the right place for this discussion when shots are fired, another agent is badly wounded, and Dominic – closely followed by Ava  – races off towards the nearby apartment block he believes must be the shooter’s location.  When they get there, there’s no sign of them – and later, learning of the injured agent’s death, he finds himself thinking that maybe Ava is right and that “there was something hinky with Van’s death” after all.

As Dominic and Ava start digging deeper, they make the alarming discovery that someone is targeting FBI agents.  Their investigation leads them into a years-old web of betrayal, revenge and murder, but with the most likely culprit dead – shot and killed by Dominic several years earlier – and leads going nowhere, it’s baffling.  And it’s not long Dominic and Ava find themselves firmly in the killer’s sights.

Cold & Deadly was a compelling listen; tightly plotted and fast-paced with plenty of action and twists and turns along the way.  The relationship between Dominic and Ava doesn’t get off to the best of starts, with rookie agent Ava coming across as something of a loose cannon with the potential to be the worst kind of TSTL.  Thankfully however, the author quickly demonstrates that she’s courageous, tenacious and good at her job, things which Dominic quickly realises, too.  He’s more than a decade older than Ava, and the nature of his job means he’s intensely pragmatic and a cool head in a crisis; he’s a rule-follower for good reasons, and they’re like chalk and cheese. Yet the attraction that sparks between them is undeniable – they have terrific chemistry, even though both of them are determined to talk themselves out of it.  Dominic also suspects that Ava is keeping something from him – about her past, her relationship with Van – and this comes into play in a really tense section set during a prison siege that, while a tangent from the main plotline, is nonetheless gripping, and provides a fascinating insight into the job of the negotiator.

I liked both characters, although Dominic is perhaps a little overshadowed by the multi-faceted, vibrant Ava, but I have to admit that I wasn’t 100% convinced by the romance, mostly because they were both so adamant that nothing could or should happen between them, and even after it did, insisted in thinking in terms of a finite arrangement.  That said, by the end of the book, they’ve both crossed that line and shown each other that they’re in it for the long haul, and despite their very different personalities, I could see it working out between them.

The identity of the villain(s) isn’t immediately obvious, but when the reveal came, it was somewhet anti-climactic.  Not because I hadn’t considered that person as a possible culprit (I hadn’t) but because they seemed an odd choice (as well as being bat-shit crazy!)  Another thing that made me scratch my head was the inclusion of a secondary character – the heroine from book one of the Cold Justice series, A Cold Dark Place – who was thirty-eight weeks pregnant, but STILL working in the field.  That seemed all kinds of unlikely and unwise to me.

As I said at the beginning, Eric G. Dove – who narrates this series and all the books in the Cold Justice series – is a very experienced narrator, but this was my first time listening to him.  I was impressed on the whole and will definitely listen to him again; his performance is well-paced and clearly enunciated, and he differentiates effectively between all the characters.  His female voices are good – not too high-pitched – and he does a particularly good job with Ava, bringing all of her ballsy determination to his portrayal while also allowing her more vulnerable side to peek through when called for.  Dominic’s deep tones and measured delivery reflect his character, but I was pleased to hear him becoming slowly less rigid in his demeanour as the story progressed and his relationship with Ava developed.  There are a large number of secondary male characters in the book, but Mr. Dove is able to voice them distinctly by employing a variety of accents and timbres so that there’s never any confusion as to who is speaking in group scenes.

All in all, Cold & Deadly is a good, solid romantic suspense novel featuring well-drawn characters and a tight, well-executed plot that kept me guessing and had me listening to ‘just one more chapter’ more than once.  I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the author and the genre in either format, and I’ll definitely be picking up more of the series in audio.

Cold Blooded (Cold Justice #9) by Toni Anderson

This title may be downloaded from Amazon

A journalist searching for the truth about her best friend’s death—and the FBI agent who needs her to stop. 

Disgraced investigative journalist Pip West is devastated when she discovers her best friend’s body face-down in a tranquil lake. When cops and federal agents determine that her friend overdosed then drowned, Pip knows they’re mistaken and intends to prove it.

Special Agent Hunt Kincaid doesn’t trust journalists and has no patience for Pip’s delusions, especially since her meddling could reveal why the FBI is interested in her friend’s last days. The dead scientist worked at the cutting edge of vaccine research and might have a connection to a new, weaponized, vaccine-resistant anthrax strain that just hit the black market.

Pip is thrown off her game by grief and her unexpected attraction to the handsome federal agent. Hunt battles the same unwelcome pull, determined to resist the heat that threatens to consume them both. But the more Pip digs, the closer she gets to both the sexy FBI agent, and to a bioweapons terrorist who’s more than capable of cold-bloodedly sacrificing anyone who gets in his way.

Rating: B

I’ve been reading more and more romantic suspense novels of late, and although Toni Anderson is an author who’s been on my radar for a while, for some reason, I’ve not yet got around to reading anything of hers.  After reading her guest post at AAR a few weeks ago, I decided to rectify that, and picked up the latest in her Cold Justice series – Cold Blooded – for review.  It’s the ninth full-length novel in the series (which also includes a novella), but I had no problems whatsoever following the story, so I can say with confidence that it works perfectly well as a standalone.  I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of the genre; the plot is topical and well-executed, the characters are likeable and while the romantic angle is perhaps more low key than I normally like, it makes sense within the context of the story that this pair would take a bit of time to warm up to each other.

Pip West’s career as an investigative journalist might well be over following the recent publication of her story about police corruption that led to a dirty cop murdering his wife and kids before turning his gun on himself.  Devastated and burdened with guilt, Pip has fled her home in Florida and driven to rural Georgia, intending to stay with her best friend, Cindy – a research scientist at nearby Blake University – while she gets herself together and works out what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  Arriving at her friend’s remote cabin on Lake Allatoona, Pip is worried when she sees her Cindy’s car outside, but can find no trace of her.  Upstairs on the balcony, she sees something floating in the lake and is horrified to realise it’s Cindy.  Panicked and horrified, Pip manages to drag the body out of the water and to call 911 – but it’s too late.

Following the discovery of a terrorist cell in possession of weaponised anthrax, Special Agent Hunt Kincaid, WMD co-ordinator at the Atlanta field office of the FBI, has been tasked with reaching out to anyone in the area whose work involves the use of bacillus anthracis.  Intelligence suggests that this new strain has come from a US source, so Hunt and his counterparts throughout the US are being alerted and given similar tasks, but given the number of government facilities, universities and biotech companies in the area – including the Centre for Disease Control – the Atlanta office is the first on the case.

Hunt’s first stop is Blake University, where he intends to speak to the staff and students who work with the anthrax virus there.  His tour of the department is interrupted by news of the death of a PhD student who had been working on a new vaccine against the virus – and the timing is too much of a coincidence for him to ignore.  He heads out to Lake Allatoona where the local police tell him they suspect the death of the young woman – Cindy Resnick – to be drug related.  When her friend – the dark-haired young woman Hunt noticed immediately upon arriving at the scene –  insists Cindy never took drugs, Hunt takes the assertion with a pinch of salt; after all, this woman found the body and because of that, is currently at the top of the list of potential suspects should this prove to be a homicide.

Pip knows the handsome FBI agent is suspicious of her, but she’s too mired in grief and anger to care.  She knows Cindy wouldn’t – couldn’t – have committed suicide and she’s determined to find out the truth, but it won’t be easy.  After her last investigation, she’s wary of law-enforcement – and once the local cops find out about her exposé of police corruption, they’re not exactly queuing up to help her either.

Pip and Hunt pursue their own lines of enquiry for the first part of the book, their paths crossing mostly accidentally, each suspicious of the other and very cautious about sharing what they find out.  After a journalist stitched him up in a move that almost cost him his career, Hunt has no love for reporters, so he’s not well-disposed towards Pip – no matter that he can’t help the strong pull of attraction he feels towards her. But the more he sees of her, the more convinced he becomes that Pip had nothing to do with Cindy’s death – and Pip finds herself wanting to trust Hunt, even though she knows he subscribes to the police’s theory that Cindy’s death was, if not suicide, then helped along by her use of drugs.  But a second death – another scientist and friend of Cindy’s – also thought to be drug related, brings Hunt to the realisation that Pip has probably been right all along and that there’s more to her friend’s death than getting high and taking an ill-advised swim.

The suspense storyline is tightly-plotted and well-researched, the tension building gradually through its various twists and turns until reaching the final chapters, which really amp things up and propel us towards an exciting, high-stakes finale.  The romance is more of a slow burn, with Pip and Hunt gradually moving in ever decreasing circles around each other as they slowly learn to shed their suspicions and to work together, but this felt completely right given the circumstances and their past experiences.  I appreciated the absence of the over-the-top mental lusting that is so often present in today’s romance novels; Hunt and Pip are attracted to and aware of each other, yes, but there’s never any sense that the plot is being suspended while they mentally drool over one another’s perfect bodies.  I liked both characters, although I can’t deny that there’s something a bit stock-in-trade about both of them; Hunt is your classic ‘I don’t do relationships because I don’t like losing people’ type, and Pip is the ‘I had a shitty childhood and now I don’t trust easily’ one.  That said though, they’re relatable and engaging, and I particularly liked the flirtatious, playful side Hunt allowed out occasionally.  Pip’s grief is very well-handled, too – her sadness and feelings of guilt and uncertainty permeate the first part of the book in a subtle way, and I was pleased to see that she didn’t suddenly recover and start to act as though nothing had happened as the story progressed.

In the negative column though, there are places where the pacing flags and others that feel repetitive, particularly when we’re in Hunt’s PoV and he keeps reminding himself that Pip is a suspect, that he doesn’t trust reporters, and he shouldn’t get involved with her.  I still wanted to know how things would turn out, but there were times I found myself skimming to get to the next bit of plot.

Overall, however, Cold Blooded is an enjoyable, suspenseful read, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Ms. Anderson’s work.