Thursday, September 18, 2014

Enter the Assassin's World in "Next Exit, Dead Ahead"

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an assassin?  Not just any assassin, but one for the good guys fighting evil so prevalent in our world?

Now imagine the difficulties of trying to lead a normal life when your enemies are seeking retribution.

That's what we get today in C.W. Browning's latest release Next Exit, Dead Ahead.  Join me in exploring this exciting novel just in time for Halloween.

Book Blurb:
Alina Maschik expected to have a few quiet days alone in New Jersey.
She should have known better.

FBI Agent Stephanie Walker has a problem. Whenever Alina comes into town, someone ends up dead. When the enigmatic Damon Miles follows, that count is doubled. Now, a mere week before Halloween, Stephanie's main informant has gone missing. When part of him shows up in a reputedly haunted prison, the local attraction becomes the center of a macabre and baffling spectacle. As bodies start to fill the morgue, Stephanie must trust in Alina's particular skill set to prevent further bloodshed. But that trust comes with a price, as Alina and Damon bring their own brand of trouble, uncovering a sinister web of deadly intrigue reaching far beyond the familiar South Jersey suburbs.

A prison haunted by tortured souls, a puzzling federal investigation, a rising body count, and a pair of deadly assassins...what could possibly go wrong?

My Review:
Just gonna say this up front - I really, really enjoyed Next Exit, Dead Ahead!  It had equal parts creepy, intrigue, suspense, mystery, and a touch of humor and romance to make this a well-rounded read.  It's been far too long since I had the chance to review such an engaging novel.

We open with an introduction to Alina Maschik - code name Viper - as she's delivering a most important "package" back to British soil.  I assume this is closing out occurrences from the previous novel in the series (which I'd love to read also).  Alina then returns home to New Jersey, looking forward to some desperately needed off time, and finds herself dragged by her two best friends to a haunted house on the grounds of the crumbling old prison.  But nothing Stephanie and Angela can do in the fantasy world can ever scare her after everything she's experienced in the real world.

Especially where a certain hawk is concerned.

Damon Miles - code name Hawk - is a counterpart in the world of covert operations.  Rarely seeing one another since their early days of training, the last few missions have brought them into close quarters once again, and ignited a smoldering fire neither wishes to fan into a flame.  Their last mission together, however, has threatened to expose Hawk's real-world alter ego and take him out of the game played across the world's hidden stage.  Damon needs Alina's help.

Because someone besides the hawk is out hunting for blood.

The cast of characters here is wide and varied, which adds to the fun and intrigue.  Alina's friend, Stephanie, is an FBI agent who had a front-row seat to Viper's abilities in the previous novel - and now she's not so sure who this woman really is, but she definitely knows what she's capable of.  Couple that knowledge with the fact that her FBI partner, John, is Alina's former fiancee and things could get out of control real fast if Stephanie doesn't keep her mouth shut.  Angela is a completely different type of friend for Alina, which helps keep her grounded to the real world.  Whereas Alina is all black wrapped in mystery, Angela is flouncy and 100% girlie-girl.  Even dressed in a suit, she oozes feminine charm - but don't underestimate her ability to close a deal.

All the players come together when a cartel threatens to create financial Armageddon by secretly siphoning off billions from two of America's largest banks - and body parts start showing up on the haunted prison's grounds.  And just when Alina and Damon thought they were safe, the cartel comes after them and makes the mistake of targeting their friends.  Enter Viper and Hawk.

Great mystery here, with lots of little pieces coming from all different angles to keep you on the edge of your seat for what happens next.  There's a few gruesome moments, but I was pleasantly surprised how little language there was considering the genre and that we're dealing with hardened criminals and enforcement personnel.  It was a breath of fresh air not to have to weed through page after page of f-words (I can't even remember if there was a single instance here - I don't think there was but don't quote me on that).  Pacing moved along with only a few instances to come up for air - and they were needed.  Even in the midst of the crazy world of espionage and assassinations, the humor was present and accounted for on many levels - and I loved Alina's pet hawk!  Who needs a guard dog to keep the ex at bay when you've got Raven?

Even though I loved this story, there were still a few issues.

The constant back and forth usage of Alina's name and then code name in the same paragraphs at first confused me into thinking we were dealing with two different people.  Seemed strange she would refer to herself by her own code name all the time.  When in Viper persona, sure.  As Alina, not so much.

Point-of-view usage switched multiple times within scenes, a few times quite jarring, and with such a good story this was disappointing though easily remedied.  This was a pre-release review copy, so a few editing snafus may not have been caught yet such as poll instead of pole and some extra spacing at times between paragraphs (obviously not scene breaks).

As the story progressed, the eye narrowing of every single character became so prevalent I started counting them on each turn of my Kindle page, noting so many I just had to laugh after awhile to keep from groaning.  An abundant use of the words swiftly, silently, and slightly began cropping up as well the further along the story I read.  I know we authors have our favorite words and phrases, but these could be culled with another editing run-through starting from about the middle of the novel to the end.

Even with the above issues, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Next Exit, Dead Ahead and would be very happy to pick up the prequels in this series.  I can comfortably recommend this novel with four and a half stars.

Pick it up for Kindle or paperback on Amazon.  And don't forget to start with the first two in the series  Next Exit, 3 Miles and Next Exit, Pay Toll.

Author Bio:
CW Browning was writing before she could spell. Making up stories in the backyard with her childhood best
friend, imagination ran wild from the very beginning. When she moved to New Jersey from Kansas at the age of seven, those tales became written words as she adjusted to life on the East Coast. Her first full-length novel was printed out on a dot-matrix printer at the age of eight. Through the years, the writing continued as an enjoyable past-time while she pursued other avenues of interest, attending Rutgers University and studying History. In time, though, it became apparent where her heart truly lie. CW still makes up stories in her backyard, but now she crafts them for her readers to enjoy. She makes her home in Southern New Jersey, where she loves to grill organic steak and sip red wine on the patio.

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