(Sphere e-book 2013)
Francis Bacon wrote: “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong, putteth the law out of office.” This book, the third in Armstrong’s series following Nadia Stafford, a former Canadian police officer turned contract killer, considers the act of revenge, of killing to avenge a perceived or actual wrong.
The two previous books in the series, Exit Strategy and Made To Be Broken, were crime novels with hitmen as detectives, dishing out retribution as they saw fit (it’s a bit odd that one can read a book in which the protagonist and her allies can kill so easily, even if those killed are criminals themselves, and actually find oneself rooting for Nadia and her colleagues). A traumatic event in her childhood, the rape and murder of her cousin Amy, has haunted Nadia for twenty years, and her shooting of rape suspect Wayne Franco seven years previously, cost her a job she loved. The suspect in Amy’s murder, Drew Aldrich, was never convicted. This event has shadowed Nadia’s life and has been referred to in both previous books. In Wild Justice, after she has to abort a hit, which leads to the death of the woman the hit was meant to protect, her mentor Jack gives her the chance to confront Drew Aldrich, who Jack has tracked down despite the man’s several aliases and changes of town.
However, confronting Aldrich leads to the uncovering of memories Nadia has buried for years, and she’s determined to find out who really did kill Amy and bring him to justice. While she is doing this, she also resolves unfinished business with Quinn, a federal marshal who also moonlights as a hitman, and with whom she’s broken up recently after having been in relationship for about six months; and with Jack.
While you could read Wild Justice without having read either of the first two novels in the series, it makes more sense, and one is much more invested in the outcome of the novel, having read Exit Strategy and Made To Be Broken. I try to be relatively objective in these reviews, but I really can’t say how much I enjoyed the Nadia-Jack pairing and how it came about in this book: they had been avoiding the issue over the previous books, and I thought Armstrong handled that build-up and its resolution really well. Again, it seems odd that one would root so much for a love interest who is nearly seventeen years Nadia’s senior and who has been killing people for money for nearly thirty years, but Jack is right for Nadia because he understands the dark parts of her psyche that make her able to kill, and is willing to do anything he can for her.
I love the way Armstrong writes their dialogue: Jack’s Irish, though he’s lived in the US for years, so that his accent only comes out with people he trusts, and, like many Irish people, his speech is liberally peppered with ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’, which Nadia occasionally makes fun of, along with his tendency to speak in a kind of telegraphese, omitting pronouns and extraneous adjectives. Their attraction to each other is realistically depicted, as are the effects this has on their relationships with Quinn and Evelyn, Jack’s former teacher and mentor. While the reader knows a lot about Nadia already from the previous books, Jack has remained something of an enigma – as he has to her. In this we learn more about him, and there’s a real sense of how he’s changed from someone whom Evelyn describes in Made To Be Broken as having had “the worst case of fuck-the-world rage” she’d ever seen to a man who talks Nadia down from nightmares, and seriously engages with her about what they both want from their relationship.
I should add: in case you think the book’s all about Jack and Nadia’s romantic issues, it certainly isn’t – Armstrong’s plotting is excellent, and the build-up to Nadia’s quest and its resolution are very well done, making one invested in the pay-off. I think that’s one of the reasons I like this series so much: the characters are real and with problems they try to resolve, even if it’s often in a way that most of us wouldn’t dream of!
I don’t know if there’ll be any more in the series: Armstrong seems to have brought Nadia’s journey to a good conclusion, but she has left room for further stories if she wants.
I really enjoyed this, but suspect that you won’t enjoy the book as much or feel so invested in its conclusion without having read the first two books.