Kelley Armstrong takes the hit-man trope and twists it until it screams.
Instead of a laconic, male, loner, working on a pay-per-kill basis, we get a female ex-cop, Nadia Stafford, who has a strong social network and the front of house skills to keep the guests at her nature lodge happy but who subsidizes her business by doing hits for a Mafia family. This is then twisted again when the plot turns out to be about a hitman hunting hitmen, who then has to be hunted by Nadia. The final twist, and the one that made me smile, is that Nadia lives in rural Canada and commutes south to the USA to go to practice her trade: so much for Canadians being polite and non-violent.
Kelley Armstrong sets her trope twists into high relief by making Nadia’s mentor, Jack, into the classic “I’m too laid-back to complete a sentence and too reserved to express an emotion” loner male.
“Exit Strategy” gets off to a brisk start with the first hit happening almost immediately. The action is fast and credible. Nadia is well enough drawn to make me curious about her and to want to understand why she does what she does.
I felt the book lost pace in the middle and focused too much on the craft of killing people and not enough on helping me understand what makes these killers tick.
I enjoyed Nadia. She’s likeable, even though she kills people for money. She’s smart and brave and has personal integrity.
I did not enjoy Jack. I found his partly completed sentences, his emotional reticence, and his moody self-disapproval tiresome.
Kelley Armstrong got the book back on track for the final quarter, with some plot surprises, some tense, well-crafted, action scenes and a credible, satisfying denouement.
“Exit Strategy” is the first book in a series that currently has three titles in it. It suffered a little from that “I need to set up the situation with lots of exposition” problem but was still a good read. I expect the next book, “Made To Be Broken” to get the series into its stride.