As a big fan of Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld series, I approached Exit Strategy with some trepidation. I guess I was slightly concerned I'd miss having the possibility of werewolves. I needn't have worried. :)
Kelley Armstrong writes characters who feel like real people, whether they're an ex-cop hitwoman, or the world's only female werewolf. In Exit Strategy this is made clear from the 'victim vignettes'. Two or three pages we spend with the victims of the serial killer before they're murdered, as they just go about their daily lives. In just a few pages they become real people, not just red shirts. By the time you get to page 287 and read about Gracie and Cliff you'll be biting your fingernails.
Even though Nadia is the protagonist (and ES is written in first person), we don't find out exactly what happened to her when she was younger. We know it's something terrible, but she's not exactly honest with herself, let alone other people. And there's a feeling throughout the book that this incident was a precipitating event, that through other decisions she's made in her life, has brought her to her present position. (Wow - compound sentence there.) We learn part of the story of this triggering event, and we can surmise more as we experience her nightmares and what she shares with Jack. But she doesn't allow herself to think of what happened, though it clearly still troubles her.
So Nadia as a heroine is a bit of an enigma. Even though we're in her head, there are still parts of her that remain a mystery. And I liked this. I liked having to think about her motivations. As a hitwoman she's decisive and professional, but there's something inside her that's not functioning quite properly. I'm hoping we gradually find out more about her in upcoming books. I wonder if she'll ever have to confront all the things she's denied.
Of the other hitmen - Jack, Evelyn, Quinn and Felix - we spend most time with Jack, who is Nadia's mentor, and Evelyn who was Jack's mentor.
...Jack said, "You saw my note, right? It said 'wait'."
"That was a note? I thought it was a haiku."
Jack brings new meaning to the word taciturn. Whilst he uses the minimum number of words to get his point across, and none if he can say what he wants to non-verbally, his presence looms large on the page. He remains a complete professional, focused on the job at hand, and yet there is a chemistry between him and Nadia that is almost tangible - probably moreso because the two of the them don't acknowledge it. Yep, I think I'm gonna be a Jack/Nadia shipper.
"He's an old man," Evelyn said..."Flash him some T and A, and he'll tell us everything we want to know."
"Great," I said. "We'll find you a push up bra and a mini skirt."
Evelyn is one sharp old lady who knows what makes people tick. You underestimate her at your peril. It's clear that she cares for Jack. Whilst she states an interest in mentoring Nadia, I wouldn't put it past her to have other motives.
And, yep, there is loads more dialogue I want to quote, but I'm gonna stop there. :)
One of the most memorable scenes for me in Bitten (Otherworld Bk1) has nothing to do with werewolves. It's the scene where Elena is pursued by a killer through an airport parking lot. You were there with her. And Exit Strategy has a similar feel. Would I recommend this book to everyone - no. If the reason you read Kelley Armstrong's books is for the urban fantasy element, then this one might not be for you. If on the other hand it's for her dialogue, and the way she makes characters come alive on the page, then give it a try.