Kiss Me While I Sleep
Linda Howard knows how to write romantic suspense all right. And if this one lacks the emotional power of Cry No More, the author nevertheless once again steps up to the plate and delivers a riveting story featuring two intriguing protagonists and a truly scary scenario that, sad to say, someday might not be so fictional. Though it’s all a bit too grim for me to imagine reading it again, this latest from the mistress of romantic suspense earns a very strong recommendation indeed.
One thing any reader should know right up front is that heroine Lily Mansfield is an assassin. No tricks, no “she’s not really in the end” stuff: For nineteen years Lily has worked for the CIA as a contract killer. She trusts her government and believes her hits are righteous, but hits they decidedly are.
But when her two closest friends (retired agents long out of the business) and their adopted Croatian daughter are murdered by the ruthless head of an equally ruthless criminal conglomerate after the two broke into one of his corporate labs, Lily goes off the reservation and performs her first unsanctioned hit: She poisons the powerful head of the Nervi organization while in disguise as the young French woman he was hoping to seduce.
Clearly, the renegade agent has to be stopped and CIA head of operations Frank Vinay taps agent Lucas Swain as the man for the job. The savvy (of course) Lucas is an experienced field agent with the requisite skills to track down the chameleon-like Lily in her many and varied disguises – a goal pursued with equal fervor by Nervi’s murderous sons.
But Lily, her plans for revenge only just begun, proves to be an elusive target for both the Nervis and Lucas. Because her murdered friends were well out of the espionage trade, Lily means to discover just what – and who – lured them out of retirement. So happy were the late couple with their daughter that Lily believes only desperate fear would have caused them to make the bold and risky move of attempting to destroy a lab owned by one of the world’s most ruthless criminals. Especially since that same criminal cooperated just enough with the CIA and other worldwide governments to keep himself and his organization out of their sites.
Frankly, it’s this exceedingly complex story – and not the main characters – that kept me turning the pages. Hero Lucas Swain is typical of that generic breed of super-agent so familiar to romantic suspense readers. Still, he’s a likable protagonist (with a real car fetish) who proves himself to be both a worthy adversary and eventual partner of the mysterious Lily.
To be honest, I found myself always maintaining some distance from Lily simply because she is something I could never even begin to contemplate: A killer. Distanced from her family because of the extreme danger and nomadic nature of her profession, her murdered friends and, even more intensely, their daughter Zia formed her only family. Found by Lily in war torn Croatia and adopted by her friends, Lily loved Zia with an intensity that could only be called maternal, making her intense desire for revenge more than understandable.
It should also be said that while I was decidedly riveted to the author’s tale, I was also more than a little alarmed by some of her assertions – so much so, in fact, that when I finished the novel I found myself on the World Health Organization Web site checking out a few of her plot points. Chillingly, it appears that Ms. Howard takes only plausible fictional liberties with a real life scenario that is eventually all too probable. Gulp. Let’s hope those WHO and CDC people stay on the case.
It’s all very over the top here and, to be sure, all very riveting. Clearly, Linda Howard is a first-class romantic suspense author who once again delivers a first class tale. Her fans – and you know who you are – won’t be disappointed.