Desert Isle Keeper
The Black Hawk (#17 on our Top 100 Romances list)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on August 27, 2014
In All About Romance’s review of The Black Hawk in November 2011, Jean Wan wrote, “Once in a while, during every reader’s literary life, you encounter a book that reminds you why you are a reader. It renews your faith, if faith was lost; it rekindles your interest, if interest waned; and every word, every page, is a wonder. Adrian and Justine’s story is not only such a book and it confirms Joanna Bourne is one of the best authors currently writing.” That still holds true. This is a truly exceptional story that has been enhanced by an equally exceptional performance from Kirsten Potter in this new audiobook version.
England’s war with Napoleon has been over for three years, and former French spy Justine de Cabrillac has settled in London where she makes her living as a shopkeeper. But old habits die hard, and when Justine comes into possession of valuable information concerning a plot against the British Intelligence service, she knows there is only one man she can turn to: her former friend, former lover, and former enemy Adrian Hawker, now Sir Adrian Hawkhurst and Head of British Intelligence. On her way to headquarters, Justine is attacked and seriously wounded, reaching her destination by sheer force of will alone. As Justine fights for her life, Adrian and his team of agents sets about investigating the whys and wherefores of the attempt on her life – and discover a plot that goes far further than any of them have anticipated. Someone is out to discredit Adrian and see him tried for murder, and that someone will go to any lengths to achieve these aims.
The stage is set for an engrossing story of revenge and espionage, and I really can’t say much more about the plot without spoilers; all I’ll say is that it’s satisfyingly complex, detailed and expertly rendered. Anyone who has read or listened to any of the other books in this series will know that Joanna Bourne is a superb storyteller whose knowledge of the period seeps through in every sentence. She never loses sight of the fact that her characters are just as important as the twists and turns of the plot.
The search for Justine’s would-be-murderer finds her and Adrian working together once more to unravel a knot of truths that goes back more than two decades – and interweaving through that plotline is a love story that spans the same period, a story that has been briefly glimpsed in the other books in the series (Adrian and Justine met as teenagers in The Forbidden Rose). The Black Hawk is unlike the other books in the series, which all tell their stories in a straightforward, linear way. Here, we jump backwards and forwards to different points in Adrian’s and Justine’s pasts, seeing their very first joint operation as teens and then finally discovering why, when we met Adrian as a gangly twenty-something in The Spymaster’s Lady, he was suffering from a near-fatal bullet wound inflicted by Justine.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of the books in this series in both print and audio formats, but I think this is my favourite of them all. Adrian has been a strong presence in the other stories, and he makes for an absolutely wonderful hero: highly intelligent, authoritative, ruthless – and sexy as hell. As has been apparent from the moment they met, Justine is his perfect match in every way. She’s just as intelligent and ruthless, and over the years they have come to know each other as nobody else ever has or will. They’re a couple that is truly meant-to-be, despite all the obstacles they have had to overcome, or perhaps because of them. The romance between them is full of insight, tenderness and sensuality and I love the way it unfolds in flashback.
Kirsten Potter delivers another absolutely wonderful performance in this audiobook. Her narration is well-paced and expressive, and all the characters are easily identifiable and appropriately voiced. The standout performance is that of the Black Hawk himself. She portrays him as a teenager, a young man, and as Sir Adrian, a mature man in his late thirties who has lost none of his childhood insouciance or tendency to circumvent authority when it suits him. Her interpretation of Justine, too, is spot on. Ms. Potter has a wonderful way with Ms. Bourne’s French heroines, not just in her expert use of accent, but in the way she conveys their courage and pragmatism. There are times I can actually hear the Gallic shrug in her voice! While the story is quite dark at times, it’s not without humour, most of it coming from the deadpan utterances of the protagonists, rendered brilliantly by Ms. Potter. The characters we have met in previous books are portrayed consistently, and other than the odd mispronunciation and antipodean twang in Ms Potter’s English accent, there is absolutely nothing about her narration that doesn’t work.
The Black Hawk is a wonderful audio experience from beginning to end and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: A and Book Content: A+
Unabridged. Length – 10 hours 39 minutes