Cold & Deadly
Narrated by Eric G. Dove
Cold & Deadly is the first book in the spin off from Toni Anderson’s long-running Cold Justice series, Cold Justice: Crossfire, and it features characters who work as negotiators for the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, which conducts and manages on-scene negotiations during crisis events worldwide involving US citizens. This is the first of Ms. Anderson’s books I’ve listened to – I’ve read others and have had some on my Audible wishlist for ages – and I was pleased to be able to jump in at the beginning of a series. Narrator Eric G. Dove is new-to-me, but has almost 400 titles to his credit at Audible, so I had high hopes for both the story and the narration.
The book opens at the funeral of FBI Agent Van Stamos, who retired after thirty years of service four months earlier, then got blind drunk one night and accidentally shot himself. Stamos was a father figure and mentor to many a rookie, including Supervisory Special Agent Dominic Sheridan, who became one of Van’s closest friends. As friend and family mill around, Dominic is thinking about Van, and how this is the third funeral for a colleague out of the New York Field Office he’s attended in the last year – when the sound of an altercation attracts his attention. He can’t hear what’s being said, but Special Agent Ava Kanas is arguing with her boss (Van’s replacement) who clearly doesn’t want to hear what she has to say. Years as one of the FBI’s top negotiators means Dominic is able to set his own grief and anger aside in order to diffuse the situation – but he isn’t quite prepared to hear what Kanas has to say, either. She was one of Van’s protégés and was pretty close to him… and she is adamant that his death wasn’t an accident. She believes he was murdered. Dominic tries to point out that the man’s funeral isn’t the right place for this discussion when shots are fired, another agent is badly wounded, and Dominic – closely followed by Ava – races off towards the nearby apartment block he believes must be the shooter’s location. When they get there, there’s no sign of them – and later, learning of the injured agent’s death, he finds himself thinking that maybe Ava is right and that “there was something hinky with Van’s death” after all.
As Dominic and Ava start digging deeper, they make the alarming discovery that someone is targeting FBI agents. Their investigation leads them into a years-old web of betrayal, revenge and murder, but with the most likely culprit dead – shot and killed by Dominic several years earlier – and leads going nowhere, it’s baffling. And it’s not long Dominic and Ava find themselves firmly in the killer’s sights.
Cold & Deadly was a compelling listen; tightly plotted and fast-paced with plenty of action and twists and turns along the way. The relationship between Dominic and Ava doesn’t get off to the best of starts, with rookie agent Ava coming across as something of a loose cannon with the potential to be the worst kind of TSTL. Thankfully however, the author quickly demonstrates that she’s courageous, tenacious and good at her job, things which Dominic quickly realises, too. He’s more than a decade older than Ava, and the nature of his job means he’s intensely pragmatic and a cool head in a crisis; he’s a rule-follower for good reasons, and they’re like chalk and cheese. Yet the attraction that sparks between them is undeniable – they have terrific chemistry, even though both of them are determined to talk themselves out of it. Dominic also suspects that Ava is keeping something from him – about her past, her relationship with Van – and this comes into play in a really tense section set during a prison siege that, while a tangent from the main plotline, is nonetheless gripping, and provides a fascinating insight into the job of the negotiator.
I liked both characters, although Dominic is perhaps a little overshadowed by the multi-faceted, vibrant Ava, but I have to admit that I wasn’t 100% convinced by the romance, mostly because they were both so adamant that nothing could or should happen between them, and even after it did, insisted in thinking in terms of a finite arrangement. That said, by the end of the book, they’ve both crossed that line and shown each other that they’re in it for the long haul, and despite their very different personalities, I could see it working out between them.
The identity of the villain(s) isn’t immediately obvious, but when the reveal came, it was somewhet anti-climactic. Not because I hadn’t considered that person as a possible culprit (I hadn’t) but because they seemed an odd choice (as well as being bat-shit crazy!) Another thing that made me scratch my head was the inclusion of a secondary character – the heroine from book one of the Cold Justice series, A Cold Dark Place – who was thirty-eight weeks pregnant, but STILL working in the field. That seemed all kinds of unlikely and unwise to me.
As I said at the beginning, Eric G. Dove – who narrates this series and all the books in the Cold Justice series – is a very experienced narrator, but this was my first time listening to him. I was impressed on the whole and will definitely listen to him again; his performance is well-paced and clearly enunciated, and he differentiates effectively between all the characters. His female voices are good – not too high-pitched – and he does a particularly good job with Ava, bringing all of her ballsy determination to his portrayal while also allowing her more vulnerable side to peek through when called for. Dominic’s deep tones and measured delivery reflect his character, but I was pleased to hear him becoming slowly less rigid in his demeanour as the story progressed and his relationship with Ava developed. There are a large number of secondary male characters in the book, but Mr. Dove is able to voice them distinctly by employing a variety of accents and timbres so that there’s never any confusion as to who is speaking in group scenes.
All in all, Cold & Deadly is a good, solid romantic suspense novel featuring well-drawn characters and a tight, well-executed plot that kept me guessing and had me listening to ‘just one more chapter’ more than once. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the author and the genre in either format, and I’ll definitely be picking up more of the series in audio.
Breakdown of Grade: Narration – B+ Story – B
Running Time: 10 hours and 33 minutes