Photographer Alex Graham is no stranger to disaster sites. A dam collapse in Arapahoe Junction, Colorado, is different though and pulls her into the story more than any other she’s covered. Alex becomes so involved in the rescue efforts that she capture the images she’s paid to get. Then, while trying to get caught up, she overhears a conversation that indicates the disaster might not have been an accident after all, but part of a larger conspiracy.
A sympathetic police detective is willing to hear her out, but there’s no proof that the collapse was anything more than a tragic accident. When several threats are made on her life, including one that puts her friend Sarah Logan in danger, Sarah’s well-connected husband John arranges for the FBI to offer her protection. Alex refuses, and former CIA assassin Judd Morgan is brought in to keep her out of trouble, whether or not she cooperates.
But the conspiracy reaches into the highest levels of government, and when the FBI notifies the media that Alex is wanted as a suspected terrorist, it becomes clear she can use all the help she can get. Evading the authorities is only part of her problem. Alex knows there are more disasters planned, and she’s the only one who might be able to stop them.
Iris Johansen has concocted a timely and very clever plot in both senses of the word in Dead Aim. It has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality, touching on several issues that have emerged in post-9/11 America, that keeps it from seeming too far-fetched. (It does have the misfortune to be released around the same time as a well-publicized movie currently in theatres, with which is shares a big plot point that may come off as less creative than it otherwise would.) What the conspirators are up to is actually pretty ingenious, which, unfortunately, is about the only thing this story has going for it.
Dead Aim is an average suspense novel with most of the usual flaws average suspense novels have. It’s filled with undeveloped characters we don’t care about. Alex is determined, Morgan is ruthless, other characters are either good or bad. That’s about it in terms of character development. Most of the conspirators blur together. Half the time I didn’t know which Washington politico was talking to whomever, and generally it didn’t matter.
The story is told with a lot of dialogue and little description, which makes it a fast read. It’s action-packed, but also never really suspenseful. It kind of zips by, never building any real tension, one of those books that’s easy to read without being all that engaging. Johansen even uses one of those scenes straight out of the thriller handbook when a dying man says something the characters misinterpret one way, so the heroine can later figure out what he really meant at a pivotal moment.
Generally I wouldn’t hold an unconvincing romance against a book that isn’t a romance novel, but the “love story” Johanesen presents is not only lacks credibility, it’s also out of place. On the surface it’s no different that any romance where the tough guy hero takes the heroine hostage and they run around evading assassins. Romances do require some actual characters, though, which this book doesn’t have. Morgan is portrayed as entirely too cold-blooded, killing without a second thought when it’s the pragmatic thing to do, knocking Alex out without batting an eye when it’s expedient. There’s no sense he’s capable of any of the deeper emotions required to make a love story believable. The book would have better if the romantic element had been left out and they had just worked together, nothing more. That at least would have made sense.
As this is suspense, not romance, I could overlook the thin characters and unconvincing love story. But is it suspenseful? The answer is no, and for a suspense novel, that is a big weakness.