By Kay Thomas, contemporary (2013)
Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-229086-1
Hard Target is the first book in a series revolving around yet another agency composed of former SEAL people and what not, because there are never enough of these people who can somehow make billions of dollars to buy the software and hardware needed to start such operations while busy saving the world from evil Middle-Eastern and the occasional, now lamentably out of fashion, Russian and Eastern Europe terrorists. Indeed, there isn't anything in Hard Target that hasn't been seen before.
Anna Mercado's marriage to her husband Tomas has fallen apart for a while now, but their son Zach is in dire need of a heart transplant. When the story opens, it is finally Zach's turn to receive a heart transplant, and Anna doesn't mind when Tomas invites her and Zach to a Mexican getaway to give Zach a good time before he goes for his surgery. Alas, she overhears Tomas plotting to do away with her and kidnap Zach, so, clearly, the family reunion isn't happening any time soon. She eventually flees with Zach, but when they stop at a motel, her husband shows up to show her who the boss is.
Fortunately for her, Leland Hollis is in the room next door. Our former DEA hero resigned after his superior sent him and his team to assault what seems to be a criminal's abode, only to discover too late that the informant lied and Leland should have trusted his instincts that something wasn't right. By that time, one dead baby, another critically injured baby, a crippled woman, and a huge lawsuit all ensured that Leland's reputation is completely destroyed. Still, Leland is still a good guy despite being more surly than anything else at the moment, and he rushes to Anna's rescue.
When Zach is kidnapped shortly after, he can't help but to continue to lend Anna a hand. It's a good thing, as Anna is understandably out of her depths and Leland's connection with his fellow future stars of sequels and his action man expertise would all come in very useful. Time is running out for Zach, however, so they have better get moving ASAP!
Hard Target is not the most logical story around. The plot is quite convoluted, and when the villain's plot is finally revealed, I can only wonder whether there is a less complicated scheme that could be carried out. The whole thing is so convoluted, with so many rooms for failure, it's actually a wonder the whole thing even got off the ground.
Still, the story is so much fun - I'm having so much fun, it's so easy to just go, "Oh, what the hell!" and jump screaming in exhilaration down the cliff with these people. We have drug cartels, bullets, assassins, and everything normally associated with crime parties in Latin America, and all that is missing from the celebration of stereotypes is Salma Hayek. Anna isn't going to be a gun-totting avenger babe anytime soon, and that's fine, as doing so would be out of character for her. But she's a smart heroine and she behaves realistically in most situations without coming off as a liability. Leland is a standard part emo, all action hero guy, but he's an appealing one, as he's a sweet knight in tarnished armor guy and he is not too much of a super hero here. Maybe it's just me, but I also find the main villain quite sympathetic as he's doing what he does out of love. I'd like to say that I don't approve of his methods, but actually, I think I do. A guy that would happily kill in the name of love is so hot.
The romance is quite thin and it takes place at an accelerated pace, but all things considered, it's a nice complement to the crazy party that is the rest of the story. The characters are likable, and they do have some good chemistry, so in a way, I can believe that these two would be all right in the long run. Hard Target is more like an action story with romance instead of a romantic story with some suspense, so people looking for something that focuses more on the romance may be disappointed with this one. You may want to adjust your expectations a bit before reading this one.
Hard Target isn't going to win any award for sophisticated plotting, but it is such a crazy party that I can't help but to have fun. And that's not a bad thing at all.
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