Wednesday, 10 June 2015
#CBR7 Book 60: "Off the Edge" by Carolyn Crane
Rating: 4 stars
Laney Lancaster has been on the run from her monstrous ex-husband for the past two years. While he's in jail (because of Laney), she knows that there is no way he'd let his many efficient and ruthless henchmen stop looking for her. Hiding as a lounge singer in a hotel in Bangkok, Laney is aware that the brothers of her friend Rajini may be involved with organised crime, but they have also been keeping her safe, with a job and a place to stay. She would love to have other options, but her husbands criminal contact network runs far and wide, and she's terrified of falling back into his clutches. She's deeply cautious and barely ever even leaves the hotel grounds, but makes an exception to celebrate her birthday.
Peter Macmillan is an Associate, one of many undercover operatives working where other law enforcement agencies can't always operate. He used to be a linguistics professor at the top of his field, until he lost all he held dear in a tragic accident and became obsessed with revenge. Using his unique skills of determining minute dialect and speech markers to track those responsible for the accident, he nearly got himself killed, but also caught the attention of the leaders of the Associates and offered a new chance to make a difference. Now he tracks down criminals, terrorists and arms dealers, able to track and identify them from the way they speak and their vocabulary choices. There's going to be an auction for a devastating new weapon in Bangkok, and Peter needs to track down the arms dealer, based only on the vocabulary quirks caught in the encrypted messages announcing the auction. When he realises that Laney sings in the hotel every night and records herself and everyone surrounding the stage, he realises that this is his best chance to identify the arms dealer. He just needs to get close enough to copy her recordings.
Because it's her birthday, Laney lets herself be charmed by the beautiful stranger who seems to have such insight into her song lyrics. After a very steamy encounter, she leaves him alone in her room for a few minutes, and returns to discover him searching her computer. She's convinced he must be working for her ex-husband, and within minutes, Rajini's brothers and their thugs have Peter hauled away, promising to get to find out why he was snooping in her private files. The day after, talking to some of the hotel staff, she realises that the stories she's been told by Rajini and her brothers don't entirely add up, and start investigating the fate of her lover herself. When she discovers that he's chained in the basement of the hotel, having been badly beaten, she questions him about his connection to her ex and discovers that he knows nothing of the man. She frees him, and hopes he can forgive her for landing him in trouble.
Peter, however, has discovered that the Shinsurin brothers record most of the prominent guests in the hotel, probably for possible blackmail purposes, and eyes a golden chance to get the voice recordings he needs to identify their terrorist arms dealer. Of course, in order to get access to the footage, he needs to make the Shinsurins believe he is still their helpless prisoner. After arranging with his fellow Associates in Bangkok to get the guards sedated at a set time, he locks himself back up in the cell, so they don't suspect him of being more than an overly curious admirer, waiting for his chance to use the hotel monitoring equipment to catch his mark.
While Laney may seem unbearably naive, hiding in plain sight as a nightclub singer in a Bangkok hotel, taking the shelter offered by Thai criminals without questioning their actions too much, she clearly did not have a lot of options to get away from her sociopathic and brutal ex-husband. That she should probably question the fact that they keep finding excuses for getting her a new fake passport and finding compelling reasons for why she must never leave the hotel seems obvious to me, but then I've really never been in a domestic abuse scenario of the level that Laney is running from.
Peter hides a wealth of deep pain and is trying desperately not to face the memories of his lost loved ones. For years, his missions for the Associates have been everything he needs, but he's clearly ready for something more, and when he makes an unexpected connection with Laney, he's scared. Not proud of the many dark things he's done while working undercover, he tries to drive her away by being brutally honest with her, but Laney's been around dangerous men before, and while Peter may have killed, he's a man with ethics and a moral code. The two join forces to track down the terrorist arms dealer that Peter needs to stop. With Laney suddenly insisting on leaving the safety of the hotel where she's been hiding, she'll become a lot more visible. Can they complete the mission before Laney's creepy ex catches up with her again?
I liked Against the Dark, but it was little more than a long novella, having the characters meet and fall for each other very quickly, without too much backstory being developed for either of them. In this, Carolyn Crane has time to establish each of the characters more, and spends more time developing the plot. I'm a sucker for an intelligent hero, and Peter's linguistic abilities were fascinating to me. It wouldn't surprise me if there were people out there in real life with precise enough skills to unfailingly identify where a person was from the way Peter can do, but if there isn't, she created a believable enough skill set for him. This is another action-packed and suspenseful read, with a compelling central couple, and interesting supporting characters, several of whom I'm sure I'll meet in later books in the series.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.