where death meets the devilRating: 4.75 stars
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Length: Novel

It’s his 35th birthday and Jack Reardon wakes up to find himself tied to a chair in a torture shack. Jack has been undercover, infiltrating the compound of a criminal who’s amassed a secret army in the middle of the Australian desert. Now it looks like his cover has been blown and Jack figures his time is up. That is until notorious assassin Ethan Blade appears in the mix. Jack has no idea why Blade would possibly be helping him, but he takes out about 30 bad guys single handedly and manages to get the two of them out of the compound and on the run.

Jack has always fought on the side of justice, first with the military and now as part of a secret organization that protects the Australian meta-state. He not only fears what Blade can do, he can’t understand how the man can be a killer for hire with seemingly no conscience. Jack is pretty sure Blade will kill him at the first opportunity, but surprisingly the man isn’t much like he seems. As the two cross the unforgiving desert, Jack learns things about Blade he never expected — his love of cars, his compassion for animals, and his sense of dry humor. Where at first Jack saw only an enemy, he is beginning to find a strange sort of friendship and an emotional connection with Blade. When the two finally make it out to safety, however, Jack never expects to see Blade again.

A year later, Jack is still on desk duty following the events in the desert. His boss doesn’t quite trust him yet, but she is getting there. That is until Blade walks into the lobby of Jack’s building and turns himself in — but only to Jack. Suddenly Blade is back in Jack’s life and Jack must figure out why he is there and what his real agenda might be. As much as Jack tries to keep himself emotionally removed, he can’t quite manage it, as those feelings from a year ago come back. Now Jack must figure out how he can be loyal to the country he has sworn to serve, as well as help Blade accomplish his mission, and if in the process he can keep Blade in his life.

Wow, this one was a thrill ride from start to finish! I absolutely loved Where Death Meets the Devil and didn’t want to put it down. It is fascinating and intense and exciting, with such a unique hero in Ethan Blade and a really original structure that just makes the story pop.

The book takes place over two time periods: “Then” is a year ago beginning with Jack waking in the torture shack, and “Now” starts the day Blade comes back into his life. The story is told in each time period in alternating chapters. So we go back and forth from past to present with the stories slowly unveiling, and converging, along the way. Each timeline is told linearly and mostly as one long story. So when we return to one timeline, we pick up almost exactly where we left off. It makes for breathless reading as often the chapter would close at an exciting moment, only to jump to the other time period, and then return us back where we left off. It could have been a giant mess, honestly. But somehow Hayward pulls it off incredibly well and it makes the story intense and exciting rather than chaotic. Part of this is because the two timelines tie together so nicely with moments that connect the past and present. For example, at one point we see a coded conversation in the present between Blade and Jack, and then the next chapter takes us to the past where they learn the code. It is just so cleverly done and makes for an incredibly suspenseful story as I was dying to see how the two timelines would come together and to learn all of their secrets.

The story is told all in Jack’s POV, which I think works really well as it keeps Blade a bit of a mystery. That is important because he is a mystery to Jack as well, so we learn things along with him. Blade is such a fascinating character, always about ten steps ahead of everyone, including Jack. He is merciless and caring, cold and gentle, fearless and vulnerable. He and Jack start off as enemies; at least, Jack doesn’t want anything to do with this man who is one of the most notorious assassins in the world. He thinks Blade nothing but an enemy, nothing but a criminal. But as he gets to know Blade, he learns so much more about him and I loved the connection that grows between them. This is not your usual romance, but I still found it warm and romantic with unexpected sweetness between the men.

So I can definitely recommend Where Death Meets the Devil. If you are at all a fan of romantic suspense, I think you will love this one. It is thrilling and twisty and the plot goes places I never saw coming. The unique structure really makes the book come to life and I could barely put it down. Consider this highly recommended.

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