My fellow reviewer Lynn Spencer has favourably reviewed a few of Juno Rushdan’s books here, and as I’m also a fan of romantic suspense, I was keen to try something of hers. I picked up Ms. Rushdan’s latest release Unsuspecting Target for review and enjoyed it; it’s a quick and easy read featuring likeable characters that packs a lot of action into a relatively small page-count. It’s the final book in her Hard Core Justice series, but it worked fine as a standalone; I haven’t read any of the earlier books and didn’t feel the lack – the author incorporates the necessary backstory skilfully and without lots of tiresome info-dumps.
The last person Wendy Haas expects to see at a high-profile New York gala to promote youth literacy is her former lover, Jagger Carr – especially as he’s ten years into serving a fifteen year prison sentence for murder. A decade earlier, she and Jagger had been very much in love and planning a future together, until one fateful night when saving her life had cost Jagger his freedom. Wendy has worked hard to rebuild her life and has made a successful career in PR; the last thing she needs is Jagger reappearing and ruining it all.
While he was in prison, Jagger became involved with the powerful Los Chacales cartel in order to survive, and after they broke him out three years back, he has risen to become one of the Brethren, the cartel’s unit of elite contract killers. He’s done whatever he’s had to do to survive, but when a hit is put out on Wendy Hass, he knows he’s got to save her at any cost – and that in doing so, he’s going up against the entire cartel and its leader, Emilio Vargas.
The first third of the book is non-stop action, after Jagger ‘interrupts’ one of the Brethren who has cornered Wendy, and the two of them hightail it out of the gala and start to make their way out of the city. It’s a breathlessly exciting sequence of high-octane chases and last-minute, daring escapes and I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.
Once Wendy and Jagger have managed – temporarily – to elude their pursuers, they have a little time to try to work out why she’s been targeted (if you’ve read High Priority Asset, you’ll probably have an idea) and to decide on a plan of action. It also gives them the chance to talk about their shared past, to own to some long-held truths … and to realise that their intense connection has never waned. But with an implacable, seemingly unstoppable enemy intent on murder, it’s going to take an incredibly audacious plan if they’re going to live long enough to enjoy their second chance.
Having only 256 pages to tell a fairly complex story AND deliver a romantic HEA necessitates cutting a few corners, and here those corners are mostly to do with the romance. Because Wendy and Jagger were lovers before and have known each other for years, it’s possible to cut out the getting-to-know-you phase of the relationship, but second-chance romances generally need a getting-to-know-you NOW phase, and this is lacking. Wendy and Jagger learn some things about what happened in each other’s lives in the years they’ve been apart (and some of what Jagger had to do wasn’t pretty – but it’s okay because – as he hastens to assure Wendy – he only killed scum who deserved it) but other than that, they pretty much pick up their relationship where they left off.
The suspense plot fares much better; the action sequences are slick and well-written, and wouldn’t be out of place in an action movie, and there’s some really inventive problem solving going on. There are also a few eye-rolling moments of ‘too convenient’, where things fall into place just a bit too easily; but probably no more easily than you’ll find in the average film or TV show of this type.
With all that said, I’m putting Unsuspecting Target in the ‘win’ column, because I’ll certainly read this author’s work again. I do wish she’d had a few more pages to play with in order to more fully develop the romance, but on the whole, this is a fast-paced, entertaining way to pass a couple of hours.