How to Shield an Assassin, the first in the Unholy Trifecta series, is a heist novel with a love story, but at its core, it’s about found family; in this case, quite literally found. After completing a job late one night, assassin Ari hears someone following him on foot. He turns and finds an abused and neglected eight-year-old girl whose stepfather, her only guardian, was ready to sell her for $500. Naturally, Ari kills the miscreant and decides the girl will be better off with him (yes, the assassin), rather than going into the foster care system. So, he “adopts” her. She chooses a new name (Remi), they get new ID through his lawyer brother, Luca, and go dark. With the help of his two closest friends – Russian thief, Ivan, and professional hacker, Kyou – Ari ensures he does what’s necessary to provide Remi with as much normalcy as three world-class criminals can muster.
Couldn’t someone out there write how an assassin should raise a child? If they did, Ari would be ever so grateful and read all ten volumes of it assiduously.
From the night they meet, Remi wants to be like assassin Black Widow from The Avengers and begs Ari to teach her all the martial arts moves and assassin tricks of the trade. When Ari starts taking jobs again, Remi is watched over by uncles Ivan and Kyou, who use the time wisely to teach the little sprite the art of lock picking and hacking 101.
Carter is a mercenary, specifically a retrieval specialist, who has been offered a job to “retrieve” a $43 million Monet painting from a private museum and return it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from where it was previously stolen and where a forgery now hangs in its place. To pull off this heist, Carter requires the help of other professionals, so he goes in search of Ari. Ari is very unhappy to have been found, or more specifically, to have Remi discovered, but it doesn’t take long for Ari, and in turn, Ivan and Kyou, to agree to the heist. Soon, they acquire a safe house, practice exit strategies, go on recon missions, and Ari and Carter acknowledge their feelings for each other and begin to date. Yes, date. Once the heist is completed – with Remi’s help, of course – decisions about the future must be made.
How to Shield an Assassin is so much fun, I just love it! As stated before, the foundation of this knock-out book is chosen family. Take three criminal “brothers,” add a precocious little girl, mix in a jack-of-all-trades mercenary for the love interest, and you’ve got the recipe for a loving, supportive, and crazy found family. I’m fond of found family tropes. It’s not an unusual concept in the this genre since we often see young men being disowned for being gay, and then building bonds with others in the same predicament. How to Shield an Assassin reminds me of the Unbreakable Bonds series by Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott, with the combination of crime and romance elements and the delightful banter between the men. As in Unbreakable Bonds, the brotherhood is formidable and unconditional. While at the safehouse, all four men combine their efforts into the most unorthodox parenting style to guarantee Remi’s safety, well-being, and breaking and entering mastery. It could be said there’s more than one love story in this book; in addition to Ari and Carter’s is the story of a father’s love for his daughter.
Four hours he’d had her, and Ari was clearly out of his depth, but … the way she looked at him. As if he were a hero. As if he were her hero. There was a part of him, the part still a child, that would have given anything to be in her shoes. To have a dedicated protector looking out for him.
A.J. Sherwood is a skilled storyteller whose informal style is peppered with dry humor. Anytime a writer can make me fall in love with an assassin, I say hats off. And not just an assassin, a handful of professional criminals. They’re the good bad guys, as Remi says. I find the casual usage of bad-guy lingo quite amusing and effective at immersing the reader in the story. Soon. I’ll have my own lock pick kit. All five of the primary characters are complex and charming. Ivan and Kyou have integral roles, and I look forward to learning their backstories and love interests in future books. In addition to strong character development, Sherwood is very effective at world building. The story reads like a movie reel in my head, with the tension and excitement growing as the day of the heist approaches.
Ari and Carter experience an immediate mutual attraction upon meeting.
For the first time in a long time, Ari’s libido piped up and waved a flag of approval and interest, which was interesting. It was just a shame he might have to kill him.
Carter was likewise attracted: The man looked downright edible, really. Carter gave the possibility of them getting it on a zero percent possibility with a chance of Hell Nopus, which was a shame. Because he’d so love to tap that.
Ari hasn’t been able to let down his guard around men because of his “overactive survival instincts,” but he wants to give it a shot with the man he calls a Gentleman-Criminal. You’ll have to see for yourself if Ari finds his own dedicated protector.
At the end of the day, I’m left feeling elated at having joined this crazy quintet on their criminal caper, and I’m eager to see Ivan fall in love in How to Steal a Thief, due out this spring. Sherwood had her creative juices flowing last year with the start of this series, her Jon’s Mysteries series, and the beginning of its spin-off, Mack’s Momentous Manifestations series. This year promises to be as significant. Having read them all, I encourage you to try any, including the highly recommended How to Shield an Assassin.