I’m told Iris Johansen used to be a romance novelist. You wouldn’t know it from her latest effort, Final Target, which falls clearly into the suspense genre. It contains a minor romance subplot, but no one would mistake it for a romantic novel. It excels as a suspenseful read with pulses pounding and pages turning, but it is utterly devoid of emotion.
Melissa and Jessica Riley survived their parents’ death many years ago, but not without paying the price: Melissa, who saw her mother consumed by flames in the car crash retreated into a world of her own for six years, refusing all communication with the world around her. Meanwhile, Jessica went into psychology, and gradually, through learning, experiment, and force of will, brought her sister back from the self-imposed isolation where she hid from the world. As years passed, Jessica has been successful in bringing other traumatized children out of their terror-stricken coma-like shells – often with help from Melissa, who has discovered the ability within herself to mentally bond with children who have had experiences similar to her own.
Jessica has nothing but skepticism for these supposed abilities, but she will take any help she can get, especially with her new charge, Cassie Andreas, daughter of the President of the United States. In the months since Cassie saw her nanny and several Secret Service agents murdered and her own life was threatened, she has withdrawn to the deep recesses of her mind, where she can be safe from the “monsters” who wear ski masks and carry guns. Only two people can reach her there: Melissa, and a man named Michael Travis, the underworld information mogul who saved Cassie from the murderers who wanted to capture the twin prizes of the First Daughter, and a legendary statue known as the Wind Dancer. It will take all of the combined powers of Melissa, Michael, and the Wind Dancer to draw Cassie out – if she doesn’t succeed in drawing Melissa back in first. Meanwhile, Michael and his associates are racing to find the man behind the murders before he finds Cassie, and they’re negotiating with her father for their own less-than-innocent ends. Cassie’s not the only on who doesn’t know who to trust.
The main difficulty I had with the book was the complete lack of emotion conveyed to the reader. The novel is written almost entirely as dialogue; we very seldom see much inside anyone’s head, and even less into their hearts. When a major character dies, we see nothing of the reactions of the rest of the cast, except a few tidbits in conversation. For example, characters A and B will discuss the fact that character C is taking the death pretty hard. But we never see it. We never feel any of it.
Aside from this problem, I felt that making Cassie’s father President was only a convenience. He could have been any rich man; the fact that he was President never played much of a role. Also, two of the major characters behave rather stupidly toward the end of the book, but the disturbances are only momentary.
All in all, the book is a fast-paced and intensely interesting – if unemotional – journey through realms both mental and physical, fraught with danger, intrigue, and characters that might be irresistible – if only we could see them a little better. This is a heart-pounding but not a heart-wrenching read. If you’ve enjoyed Johansen’s suspense novels before, you may find this one worth your time. Otherwise, I’d at least wait for the paperback.