2008, Romantic Suspense
Ballantine, $26.00, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345486544
Earlier this year, there was a lively discussion about Death Angel, my favorite book for 2008, on our books forum. When I recently realized there was no AAR review, I felt both compelled and eager to share my fascination with this book.
It is difficult to give many plot details as I don’t want to spoil any of the twists and turns that provide readers with a truly unique storyline. At one point there is a definite transition – almost as if there is a part one and a part two. The engrossing scenes pass quickly and I found myself interested even when Howard takes the time to explain “availability of funds” and “cash reporting” regulations (and I worked in banking for 15 years).
A woman willing to pretend adoration for a man she doesn't even respect, Drea Rousseau is satisfied living a mindless existence in the lap of luxury. Mistress to drug lord Rafael Salinas, Drea doesn’t particularly like it when Rafael and his goons make fun of her, but she knows that behind her dumb blonde facade is a sharp mind capable of fooling them all. As she sits near Rafael one morning while he talks to a dangerous looking man she knows to be an assassin, Drea chooses to think about the color of her toenail polish rather than the conversation taking place around her. As the assassin continues to level his unnerving stare on her, he informs Rafael that he doesn’t want a cash bonus for the job just completed but instead he wants her… now.
Known only to the reader as “the Assassin” until well into the book (and only Simon thereafter), the hero is a cold-blooded killer and considered the best there is. Between jobs he appears to be a regular guy – if you can call a mysterious, sophisticated, extremely well-dressed, hunk of a hero regular. He is a careful calculating man, a master of disguise, and one who studies his employers with a high level of intensity, looking for their weaknesses so that he will always have the upper hand.
When Salinas reluctantly agrees to give Drea to Simon for the afternoon, he asks only that he not harm her, never considering for a moment if she is willing. Drea, knowing that Salinas must be tiring of her to agree to such an offer, panics both at that ugly implication as well as the thought of being alone with a terrifying assassin. What follows between Drea and Simon is intense and, beyond a doubt, extremely hot. Simon proves to be gentle yet ruthless while the incident forces Drea to examine her acceptance of her predicament. Salinas’s thoughtless actions fuel within Drea an intense desire for revenge and a determination to have a better life – at the expense of her now former lover. I must warn readers that this first encounter between Drea and Simon is not for the faint hearted and Simon’s actions come close to coercive. However, it worked for me.
It’s an exciting, inventive, suspenseful ride as Drea takes off running and Simon goes after her at Salinas’s request. For me, this scenario provided a whole new meaning to the term “romantic suspense” as the majority of the cling-to-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense scenes are between Simon and Drea exclusively. And although granting personal DIK status to a book usually means the leads spend a good deal of time together, I didn’t miss the fact that they didn’t – at all.
Within the course of the story, Drea undergoes a great deal of healing as well as making some significant changes in her view of herself and the world. While readers come to know her very well, Simon retains an aura of mystery which, in my eyes, only makes his character all the more attractive. He most definitely falls into the category of “dark hero”, even for Howard, and can give Anne Stuart’s heroes a run for their money.
Although I read Death Angel in print, I treated myself to the audio version for a long vacation drive. Narrator Joyce Bean is outstanding as she gives both voice and emotions to these strong characters, and I highly recommend the audio version. Unfortunately, the paperback will not be out until May of 2009, but affordable versions of the audio and printed versions may now be found online with a number of secondary dealers.
A book that holds some surprising turns as well as a number of exceptionally heart-wrenching moments, Death Angel is a winner in that it grabs the reader from the very first page and doesn’t let go. And despite its dark nature (and a slight paranormal twist), it also succeeds as an intense and convincing romance and one I will revisit in both the audio and print versions repeatedly in the years to come.
-- Lea Hensley
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