Nadia Stafford #1: Exit Strategy

Kelley Armstrong doesn’t just write about the Women of the Otherworld; she’s also written novels about women of our world. Introducing Nadia Stafford, ex-cop and current mafia hitman (hitwoman?), and star of her own trilogy of books. Let’s kick things off with a bang in book number one: Exit Strategy, by Kelley Armstrong.

Synopsis:

Regulars at Nadia’s nature lodge don’t ask what she does in the off-season. And that’s a good thing. If she told them, she’d have to kill them. She’s a hit woman for a Mafia family. Tough and self-sufficient, Nadia doesn’t owe anyone any explanations. But that doesn’t mean she always works alone. One of her contacts has recruited her in the hunt for a ruthlessly efficient serial killer cutting a swath of terror across the country. The assassin is far too skilled to be an amateur—and the precision of the killings is bringing the Feds much too close to the hit man community for comfort.

To put an end to the murders, Nadia will have to turn herself from predator to prey as she employs every trick she knows to find the killer. Before the killer finds her…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

The first book by Kelley Armstrong I ever read was not part of the Women of the Otherworld series, but rather Exit Strategy. At the time, I wasn’t aware that it was the first book of a trilogy. I was just drawn in by the premise. And what a premise it is: a group of hitmen teaming up in order to track down a serial killer. Now that’s a hook that really grabs me. A varied group of professional killers, unable to trust one another, forced to work together in order to hunt another former hitman who has gone insane and begun murdering indiscriminately.

While the inter-party conflict is downplayed, as all the cooperating hitmen mostly know each other and get along well – no surprising betrayals here – I still found the book to be very tense and suspenseful. I think a lot of that has to do with how fast-paced the writing is – I’m not actually sure how long a time period the story takes place over; but reading it, it felt like the murders were taking place one right after another and the heroes were in a desperate race to catch the villain before it’s too late.

The cutaways to the villain’s perspective are well done and serve to heighten tension by giving us insight into his twisted thought processes without going overboard and letting us figure out his identity before the main characters do. It’s actually easy for this technique to backfire, to defuse tension instead of building it by giving the game away and making the rest of the book a long slog for the protagonists to finally piece together what the reader already knows – in fact, my “to-do” list of books to review includes one book which completely feels for this very reason – but in this case, Kelley Armstrong manages to pull it off.

I wouldn’t say Exit Strategy is Kelley Armstrong’s best book by any means – the mundane world described here simply can’t match up to the suspense, mystery, and interconnected continuity on display in the better Women of the Otherworld Books – but it stands on its own as a decent story and served me well as an introduction to her writing. So, of course, when I found out that it was not a stand-alone novel as I’d assumed the first time I read it, but rather the first book of a trilogy, I naturally had to read the sequels. Stay tuned for reviews of Made to be Broken and Wild Justice.

Final Rating: 3/5

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