I got a complimentary copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review – thank you very much! That fact didn’t influence my opinion at all.
Neen Ford has just had a hell of a day: during her security guard shift she witnessed two brutal murders perpetrated by a psycho with a baseball bat. What’s more, the said psycho knew he’d been watched and left Neen alone only because the cavalry (read: police) was too near. Still he promised that he would find her and finish their ‘business’ – not a date anyone would be looking forward to.
Although the police of Dallas did what they could they didn’t come closer to identifying, let alone catching the perpetrator. They also didn’t offer Neen almost any protection apart from keeping her name out of the press. Soon enough it became clear the case might never be solved. After all, no matter how grisly, the double murder wasn’t anything high-profile: one of the victims was just a young prostitute, most probably an illegal imigrant smuggled from Russia or Ukraine to the USA, and the other one was a retired cop.
Neen, left to her own devices and ingenuity, decided to stay in Dallas and wait for the murderer to show up again, no matter how dangerous it sounded. Being a military kid, with years of martial arts training under her belt, she was bound to know a thing or two about self-defence. She didn’t have to wait long in order to test her theory in practice. Chert, the baseball bat psycho, attacked her again when she was returning from the funeral of her murdered colleague and then he broke into her flat at night and tried to rape her. She managed to fend off both attempts mostly because she was fit, strong and lucky and Chert was stupid. Still it became evident that, in order to eliminate him she needed something more than a muscled body and physical prowess – like more money, knowledge about the Dallas prostitution underground, maybe a gun and a collaborator. Neen decided to look for these all, proving that she had also brains but her journey took her in a quite unpredictable direction.
I didn’t expect much from this novel and, after I finished it I was left very pleasantly surprised because I enjoyed it thoroughly.
First of all the novel was highly readable – I started it one evening, just to get the taste of the storytelling, and simply had to finish it, no matter what. The plot was nicely constructed and balanced, full of dynamic scenes but not overdone to breathlessness. Yes, there were some brutal, cruel scenes, like the opening with a double murder, but the author managed to present them preserving the balance, without too many gory details.
The main character, Neen (Justine) Ford, was a great heroine: kick-ass and independent but not to a point where it looks rather like foolishness. She was also completely three-dimensional, with flaws, family problems, work-related problems and so on. Anyway it was a pleasure to follow her around, see her taking difficult decisions and being awarded for it.
As Neen was a martial arts aficionado the book also featured very vivid descriptions of her teaching and different training routines. Here I admit the author pushed all my right buttons because those scenes sounded very life-like, showing not only a practical knowledge about different muscle groups and anatomy but also, what’s more important I suppose, the exact feeling of a person who’s been following certain training for a longer period of time. If I had to make an educated guess I’d say without hesitation that those scenes were taken from personal experience. They sounded right and they read very well, giving Neen a lot of credibility. The same can be said about the author’s knowledge of firearms – perhaps some professionals would be able to find mistakes but it worked for me just fine.
Now the biggest asset. Imagine it or not but there wasn’t any romantic thread included– perhaps a whiff or two, from different directions, but nothing substantial. Taking into account the subject-matter of the book (the problem of forced prostitution and human trafficking) it worked really fine. It was psychologically very believable – considering the situation Justine found herself in I would be really unpleasantly surprised if she all of a sudden started to fancy a guy or even responded positively to an attempt at a pick-up. Still, it is the first part of a series so it was a risk to leave the main female lead single and romantically uninvolved. However I was personally delighted by such a solution and I am sure the move will pay off in the future.
Now if I had to complain a little bit I would say the book could do with more comic relief. Although its topic was indeed serious, even heavy, I’d really enjoyed the whole novel more if there were more funny scenes to enliven the narration from time to time.
Apart from that I feel Neen and her story deserve a better cover art. I like the colours but the whole composition is completely meh. That chick looks as if she wanted to commit a suicide putting her head under one big gun.
Finally the title – I don’t get it. It is the first part of the famous Nietzsche’s saying: battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster. However the heroine does exactly the opposite thing: she battles with monsters and preserves her integrity by doing so.
A very nice beginning of a contemporary thriller series with a female lead I would like to meet again. I am going to root for her while waiting for the second part – Justine, I believe in your originality! Don’t become a clone of thousands of other thriller babes!