Assassins come out of the woodwork in Halliday’s thriller, which is the beginning of a new series of mysteries. Anya Danielovitch has quit the killing business, her last job tragically also the scene of her death in Serbia—at least she hopes that is the impression left by the smoldering ashes of an explosion. Reborn in California as Anna Smith (really?), she lives locally and works at a nearby pet shelter. She has also just met an interesting stranger in a Laundromat—interesting until he sets his rifle scope on her the following morning when she reports to work, prepared to take her out for a fee. Ready, aim, fire. Unfortunately, before Nick Dade can nail his prey, another bullet narrowly misses Anna and her coworker. The consummate professional, Dade is offended. One contract, one killer. Someone broke the rules, and he wants to know why.
It makes more sense to the pragmatic Nick to help Anna—now’s there’s a loaded relationship in the wings—until he can figure out the identity of the third party. For her part, Anna can’t afford to be picky, accepting Nick’s help in a rather contentious partnership that veers awkwardly between trust and suspicion, attraction and betrayal. The plot accelerates as the chaos continues. Anna reveals some of her history to her new partner, Dade recognizing similarities to his own story, the woman’s bravery under fire eliciting admiration as they dodge bullets and relentless attacks. Supposedly these two are equals, but Anna drops the ball far too often as the author uses that old ploy of a character second-guessing her own instincts only to be proved right as events unfold. This technique is employed over and over, allowing Dade to step in to save Anna—or the worst case scenario occurs and she is taken by the bad guys.
All of the action takes place in a rolling frenzy of shootouts and near-misses in California, from San Francisco to Sacramento, as another element is introduced: a political assassination that is unrelated to the contract on Anna. Since all the players come from the same venue, perhaps the overlapping violence makes some sense. One thing the author does accomplish is a lot of life-and-death encounters, bullets flying, tires screeching, law enforcement rarely in sight and any collateral damage passed off as gang-related.
Assassin to assassin, the foreseeable occurs as Dade and Smith develop feelings for one another, neither willing to acknowledge the obvious. Besides, joined together, they are more likely to outwit and outplay their adversary, who by now has been identified. Does this violent pair just shake hands and walk separately into the sunset? Or have they found an excuse to work together again, even though Anna has officially retired? Halliday is going to have to get a lot more creative than this first effort if she hopes to build a following for her killers-in-tandem—tougher plots, more believable encounters and more than their breathtaking good looks to keep this couple together.