Nadia Stafford was never going to be anything but a cop. She grew up with a father and uncles on the force, and her first ride in a sirens-blazing squad car was when she was three. But after she shot a child-killer – he was reaching in his pocket, but he wasn’t armed, and everyone knew that was a pretext – the Mounties made it clear Nadia had to find another job.
Much as she loves running a lodge (with a largely cop clientele) that offers extreme adventures, the economic downturn meant that a couple of years ago it looked like Nadia would be yet another failed small business owner. That was before she was covertly approached about a job as a contract killer. The odd work on the side, only ever killing Mafioso, and only ever over the border, has kept her business in the black, and she’s very, very careful.
Her contact, Jack, is also very careful. So when he approaches her, lodge full of police, she knows it’s important. There’s a serial killer on the loose, who seems to be killing randomly and with varying techniques, and in the US a rumour’s started that he’s a hit man. Concerned that this will bring the law down on them, too, a group of concerned professionals are looking to get the Helter Skelter Killer before the FBI does, and Jack wants Nadia to join them.
This is a departure for Armstrong, better known for her interlinked supernatural novels. The story is told primarily from Nadia’s first-person perspective, but the first few chapters, and others throughout the text, are third person from the killer’s point of view, and at least one is that of an FBI agent. Nadia’s motivation is consistent, sympathetic, and established early in the novel, and the character is not uninteresting. There is intrigue in the form of other assassins, including the enigmatic Jack, fellow law-enforcement/hit man Quinn, and the potentially untrustworthy Evelyn, now retired and definitely with her own agenda. There’s sexual tension on two fronts, plenty of action, and vivid description. But I didn’t really care about any of it, and despite my best efforts kept comparing it to the superior Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitehead series. If this was Armstrong’s first outing I’d probably give Nadia’s next excursion (for this is most definitely the first in a series) a burl, but she’s an established writer and I think this is as good as it’ll get. - Alex