This is an unexpectedly charming and engaging book about a 33-year-old former policewoman, Nadia Stafford, who now operates a vacation wilderness lodge in Ontario, but works as a contract killer for extra cash.
“There are many names for what I do. Want to channel your inner Godfather? Go for hatchet man or hired gun. Prefer an air of legitimacy? Try professional killer or contract killer. Add an air of mystery and intrigue? Use assassin. I like it plan and simple. Hitman. Hitwoman or even hit-person, if one wants to be PC, but if you ask me, ‘politically correct’ and ‘killer’ are two terms never meant to go together.”
But Nadia’s willingness to take on new jobs is not automatic:
“Where did I draw the line? What crimes did someone need to commit before I could justify taking a life? Where was the point where I could pull the trigger, and walk away with a clean conscience?”
At Nadia’s lodge, Red Oak, she has a staff of three: Emma who cooks, her husband Otto who does handyman work, and a young unmarried mother from town, Sammi, who brings her baby Destiny with her and helps with chores around the lodge. Sammi isn’t a great worker, but Nadia wants to provide support and encouragement to her. The other people in town consider Sammi to be a slut and have no interest in helping her. But Sammi reminds Nadia of her cousin Amy, who was raped and murdered when they were teens. Amy’s assailant got off free, in part because of the same mentality the townspeople hold toward Sammi: i.e., that Amy didn’t deserve any sympathy because she was “asking for it.” These are girls who were considered “disposable”; they were girls “made to be broken.” The lesson for Nadia was that “the only way to guarantee justice was to take care of it yourself.”
Sammi doesn’t come to work one day, and no one in town seems to care. But Nadia does and goes searching for her. When she finds Sammi’s body, she becomes obsessed with finding her killer, and finding the baby as well. She is helped by the two men who are part of her life as a contract killer: Quinn, a “co-worker” with a linebacker’s physique and piercing eyes, and Jack, her laconic and perceptive mentor, both of whom seem to like Nadia as more than just a colleague. Nadia likes both as well, but a healthy relationship is hard to construct out of lives made up of secret identities and surreptitious movements.
As Nadia pursues leads about Sammi, her search extends to other young “expendable” girls with babies, and the danger to her increases as she gets closer to finding out what happened. In addition, she has to juggle her regular jobs as proprietess of the lodge, and killer for hire.
Evaluation: The characters in this book are incredibly interesting and appealing, and yes, make me want to be a contract killer when I grow up! The plot has a nice mix of serious issues, humor, and romance, without going overboard on any of them. I was pleasantly surprised and definitely would read another in this series.
Published by Bantam, 2009