Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong
published by Bantam Books in June 2007
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.Genre: Mystery/Thriller
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...
Series: Nadia Stafford, Book #1
The Story: Nadia Stafford comes from a family of cops and has always known she would join the force. She also learned at a young age that cops and evidence cannot always bring justice and that criminals do walk away. This led to the 'incident' after which Nadia was asked to retire from the force and became persona non grata among her family. Nadia escaped the scandal to a remote area and nowadays, owns a nature lodge and shows her regulars a good time through the firing range and extreme sports... and to keep her business in the black, she'll accept assignments as a hit women for the Tomassinis, a Mafia family.
Nadia is coming back home from such an assignment and finds her mentor, Jack, waiting for her. It turns out a serial killer dubbed The Helter Skelter killer because he leaves a page of the book with each of his victims has been making the news and rumors have it that he's in the business... which is bad publicity for the others. So a group of hit men and women have decided to hunt him down and Jack wants to know if Nadia wants in. The only other hit man that Nadia knows is Jack and keeping it that way would be the safest... but it seems the assassin has not totally taken her over and there's still some cop in her.
My Opinion: I bought Exit Strategy when it first came out to support one of my favorite authors, Kelley Armstrong, and it's been sitting in my TBR pile ever since. Yep, 5 long years. Why haven't I read it yet? I don't really know. My best guess would be some kind of mental block and the fact that it was a departure from Ms Armstrong's usual style. So why picking it up now? Well because I've been craving for Ms Armstrong's writing... Unfortunately for me, I seem to have developed a new mental block for Waking the Witch. Yeah, I know, very ironic ^_^; Since I can't read Spellbound and 13 without Waking the Witch, I decided to give Exit Strategy another try. It also motivated me to know that Ms Armstrong has gone back to this series, now that the Women of the Otherworld series is on hiatus.
All in all, I'm happy to have read Exit Strategy :) It's not my favorite book by Ms Armstrong, but it's still a solid read and something very different. Having a hit woman as your main character is something tricky and I feel Ms Armstrong has definitively pulled it off, especially since she has kept it very realistic as opposed to the Elemental Assassin series by Ms Estep which takes place in an urban fantasy world. At the same time, while it was realistic, it wasn't overly dark or gory... and the biggest feat here was that the characters felt normal, regular despite their unusual occupation. So kudos to Ms Armstrong.
Overall, I liked the characters in Exit Strategy. I think Ms Armstrong did a good job with each of them, but more importantly, she did a great job at balance. She avoided exaggeration and stereotypes, she didn't make "being an assassin" sound cool and I think that was important. In the case of Nadia, her becoming a hit woman was all about circumstances. It's not a path she chose, instead it's a crucial event in her life combined with some decisions she made that led her here. She didn't make excuses or justified herself and she didn't pat herself on the shoulder either, thinking this was the best decision. I felt there was an honesty in Nadia that is rare, an objectivity that you hardly ever come across... I liked the fact that for her, being a vigilante isn't better than being a regular hit man or more excusable. I also liked Jack... the first word that comes to mind is indescribable and I think it fits him :) I like that he let Nadia take her own decisions, that he didn't push her in the direction that he wanted or manipulated her. The other characters were also quite interesting and it showed me that hit men come in every shape :)
What I liked best though in Exit Strategy was the mystery: the serial killer's motivations and the rush of adrenaline he felt as well as the idea of assassins binding together to get rid of one of their own who has crossed a line. I really liked the idea that it's a network and that people in this line of business would know one another, their personalities, their work... Also, in this case, there was a lot of investigative work involved... and a lot of theories. Why was this killer killing? And why these people? In the end, I enjoyed the story as I thought it was intriguing and I liked the world it showed. By the way, one of the best scene was when Evelyn, an old lady and Jack's mentor, met with the FBI agent in charge of this investigation:
"[...] We want one thing: this guy's name removed from our ranks. Once he's yours, he was never one of ours."It just sounds so bad-ass LOL.
I did have some issues with the book though. Mostly, it all boils down to the pacing which I thought was slow. Exit Strategy was somewhat a slow read and as much as I liked the elements above, I have to admit I simply wasn't hooked. I think it has to do with the story itself being slow at times, because it was weighted down by Nadia's long monologues since the book is written from her POV. Also, there wasn't as much action as I expected which is probably more realistic, but it also means less suspense and excitement in my opinion. Furthermore, I was a bit disappointed at how some events unfolded and a bit dubious at some relationships forming :(
My Grade: C+. Exit Strategy was a solid book with an original premise. I was going to give it a B-, but the truth is, after finishing it, I didn't jump on its sequel Made to be Broken and I think that has to be taken in consideration - hence the grade.