Saturday, January 4, 2014

Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong (2007) Bantam

Recently, I received a gift voucher to my favourite bookstore Pulp Fiction ( So I was looking through the shop and I discovered Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong.
Exit Strategy

In my vigilante reading, I have never been very happy with the series with female leads, with a couple of exceptions* they focus on women who seem only to screw their way from case to case. Don't get me wrong, I love The Sexecutioner, The Baroness, The Girl Factory, etc. but I wanted to read about strong capable women working outside the law.

Enter Nadia Stafford. Ex-cop with a tortured past turned hitwoman. She works for the Tomassini crime family under the alias of Dee taking out gangsters who step out of line for them. But that's only the thumbnail version when we dig deeper things become interesting.

Nadia Stafford came from a cop family and when she was 13 witnessed her cousin Amy getting raped and murdered, only to see her killer found not guilty and walk away unpunished. Years later, Nadia joined the police force and shot and killed a suspect who gloated that he would be free soon.

With that Nadia was off the force and started a nature lodge. Working for the Tomassinis helps keep the lodge afloat and allows her to keep her vigilante desires in check.

That is until the Helter Skelter Killer (HSK)came on the scene. When the FBI believe that this serial killer is a renegade hitman, it becomes bad for business and Nadia's mentor Jack brings her a couple of other hitmen to track down the HSK.

What makes Exit Strategy interesting is the relationship dynamics between the hitmen.

Firstly we have Jack, Nadia's mentor in the ways of the hitman. In some ways, Jack and Nadia's relationship echoes that of Remo and Chuin, Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin and Steed and his various proteges. Some other reviewers were hinting that there was strong possibility of a romantic attachment between the pair but I'm not so sure.

Next is Evelyn, Jack's mentor. Evelyn was one of the first female hitters back in the day and she has retired to a mentoring role and information brokerage service. We discover that Jack was supposed to introduce Nadia to Evelyn so Evelyn could be Nadia's mentor but Jack decided to do it himself and Evelyn starts trying to tempt Nadia to work with her offering a contract on a paedophile.

This mentor triangle doesn't resolve in this book but it says a lot about Nadia and her reluctance to became a vigilante for hire.

Then we have Quinn, a member of law enforcement who moonlights as a vigilante for hire. He is comfortable with his double life.

The other important character is the Helter Skelter Killer, a hitman who has gotten off on the rush of killing.

Each of these characters have different interaction with Nadia as she sorts through what she wants to do, how she deals with the desire to kill those who escape the law. Each one represents potential outcome and paths for her. What makes this book fascinating is that Nadia wrestles with this issue. For characters like The Executioner and The Punisher there is no questioning if this is the life they should lead, they do it because they beleive it has to be done. Dexter does it because of his compulsion to kill which has been channeled towards those who escape the law.

Nadia is different. I love the fact that she wrestles with this choice, I really like the idea that she is still learning. But this psychological depth doesn't come at the cost of action as the team of hitmen race after the HSK trying to stop him claiming another life.

Highly recommended.

*Modesty Blaise and The Domino Lady

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