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A contract killer’s ex-boss is determined to see her dead in Stern’s (Hope in Small Doses, 2015, etc.) thriller.

Suzanne Brooks’ future was set in 1978 when she sought revenge for her roommate, Greta, who was beaten, nearly to death, by a drug dealer. Just out of the Army, Suzanne had the marksmanship to take out Greta’s assailant but she also killed a second man who worked for crime lord Victor Kemp. After Victor tracks Suzanne down, he gives her no choice but to become his employee after finishing college—a corporate security manager in Manhattan who also does work as an assassin. Twenty-five years later, she finally escapes this arrangement to be with Brian Foster, the man whom she secretly married more than 20 years before and with whom she had a son, Michael. Victor eventually finds Suzanne and her family in hiding, triggering an explosive confrontation that ends with the crime lord’s presumed death. But as the Fosters resume their lives in the United Kingdom, Victor is in seclusion, awaiting his chance at retribution. While Suzanne begins to suspect that he’s alive, danger comes her way, including from someone who’s targeting her on Victor’s behalf. She may have to draw on her old job skills again to protect her family. Stern takes a curious approach to her story by providing few details about Suzanne’s hits, focusing instead on her post-retirement life and how she grapples with questions of identity. It’s unhurried but perceptive, as Suzanne muses on whether she would have been a killer without Victor’s coercion. Suzanne’s and Victor’s back stories effectively amplify both characters: Suzanne’s mom kicked her out of the house at 15, for instance, and Victor has two illegitimate sons. Although much of the tale is concerned with Suzanne’s everyday circumstances (such as Michael’s engagement party), looming violence is always evident. The early plot twists are predictable, but later turns in the smashing final act come at a searing pace.

An often rousing tale with a many-layered protagonist.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 2018
Page count: 301pp
Publisher: Ruthenia Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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