Midnight Target is the eighth and final chapter of Elle Kennedy’s Killer Instincts series. For fans of the series, this book provides some much-anticipated closure for not one but two couples, but for readers unfamiliar with these characters, Midnight Target may induce whiplash with its constantly revolving showcase of beautiful female assassins and smoking-hot super-soldiers. Long-time fans may find much to like in this escapist fantasy dipped in sex and testosterone, but I found the characters unappealing and the action mean-spirited. If you have never picked up an Elle Kennedy book before I wouldn’t recommend that you start here.
Warning: This review contains minor spoilers from the previous books in the series. If you plan on reading the earlier books and do not want your experience spoiled, you may want to stop reading now.
As the story opens, photojournalist Cate Morgan, the twenty-one-year-old daughter of mercenary leader Jim Morgan, is on assignment in the South American country of Guatana. While sorting through some of her photographs, Cate is shocked to spot Mateo Rivera, the head of the Rivera Cartel who supposedly died in a car bombing a few of months earlier. Wanting to verify Rivera’s identity, Cate sends the picture to Jim, who in turns sends it to his contact at the CIA. Unsurprisingly, Rivera has a mole in the CIA. And no sooner has Jim sent the picture than Cate finds herself the target of an assassination attempt by Rivera’s goons at her hotel. In the ensuing melée, Cate is able to escape from the hotel and call her father for help.
Upon receiving Cate’s distress call, Jim wastes no time in assembling an extraction team that includes his wife Noelle – a former assassin – and David “Ash” Ashton, a man with a complicated history with Cate. Four years ago, when Ash first joined Jim’s team, the two young people formed a close friendship that quickly turned into mutual attraction and lust. Knowing that Jim wants a more normal life for his daughter than a soldier of fortune can provide, Ash pushed Cate away by telling her that he’s not interested in inexperienced little girls. In the months since then, the two have barely spoken a word to each other.
In Guatana, Jim and his men locate Cate but are ambushed by Rivera’s men before they can make a clean getaway. When the resulting shoot-out leaves Jim critically injured and comatose, Noelle summons the rest of Jim’s mercenary group to Guatana. Among the men and women summoned are Liam McGregor and Sullivan “Sully” Port, two former best-friends who used to work for Jim but went their separate ways after a botched operation left Sully damaged and broken. As the team waits for Jim’s prognosis to improve, exacting vengeance upon Rivera becomes their primary focus.
Not having read the previous books in the series, I don’t know how Ash and Cate have been portrayed thus far but what I saw here didn’t impress me. Shallow, brash, and immature, Cate has two obsessions in life – Ash and his six-pack, and being treated like an adult. And her way of achieving the latter of those goals is to throw childish tantrums for every imagined slight. Instead of talking to Ash about his reservations regarding a relationship with her, she resorts to a gambit that backfires spectacularly. Later, as Jim lays critically injured in Guatana, Cate’s interactions with Ash consist mostly of her yelling at him for refusing to take her on missions – which to her is further proof that the team does not respect her or consider her an adult, never mind the fact that she’s not a trained soldier. By the time I finished the book, I could only conclude that Ash loves Cate because she likes to walk around in skimpy tank tops without the benefit of a bra. As for why Cate loves Ash, I believe this passage sums it up best:
Cate bit her lip as she watched the interplay of his muscles beneath his tight-fitting T-shirt. Back muscles like his were ridiculous. And don’t get her started about the rest of his body. How could her father think she could ever be interested in those pasty-faced college boys when she was surrounded by men like Ash?
By contrast, the romance between Liam and Sully is much more nuanced. When their last operation went south, Sully was in a bad place both physically and emotionally, and the pair ended up doing something that crossed the boundaries of friendship. Since then, Sully has stayed away in part because he still needs time to heal from his traumatic experience and also because he believes himself to be too damaged to sustain a long term relationship with anyone. When the two finally meet each other again in Guatana, it becomes clear to them that the attraction that has always simmered between them is as strong as ever. Before they can put the past behind them, however, Liam needs to work through some of the hurt caused by Sully’s abandonment while Sully needs to be convinced that he’s not so damaged that he’s incapable of love. It’s all a bit of a cliché, but the author makes it work with a couple of explosive love scenes and a humorous ending involving Liam and his Irish Catholic family – most of whom have no idea that Liam is bi-sexual – that proves that sometimes, your family may still surprise you.
As action-thrillers go, the body count here is in the high double digits. In order to flush out Rivera, the team initiates a series of ops that results in a shootout at a nightclub and a warehouse raid. And even though I am usually not squeamish about such things, I couldn’t help but wrinkle my nose in distaste as I watched these so-called good guys gun down dozens of people without even batting an eye-lid or giving a thought to the bystanders that ended up getting hurt in the crossfire. During the warehouse raid, after the team has secured the warehouse and Rivera is nowhere to be found, the team nonchalantly throws an explosive into the room and kills all forty people in it. I realize that these people work for Rivera, but they are so low on the totem pole – most of them being workers on Rivera’s drug assembly line – that they pose no threat to the team whatsoever. As such, I find the utter and complete disregard for human life exhibited by the team disturbing, especially when it’s all done in the name of vengeance.
In the end, only Sully and Liam’s romance kept this book out of the D range. For most of the it, I alternated between feeling simply annoyed to intensely disliking some of these characters. Plot-wise, there are also holes big enough for a bus to drive through and the final climactic showdown only works if you believe Rivera to be the biggest moron this side of the galaxy. Fans of the series might enjoy Midnight Target since characters from previous books make frequent appearances but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.