RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Killing Game by Toni Anderson

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Title: The Killing Game
Author: Toni Anderson
Publication Info: Toni Anderson April 2013
ISBN: 978-0991895816
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Book The Killing Game This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Jacqui C. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romantic Suspense category.

The summary:

Wildlife biologist Axelle Dehn isn’t about to let anyone harm her endangered snow leopards—not the poacher intent on killing them, nor the soldier who wants to use them as bait. But Axelle is unknowingly entangled in a conflict that stretches back three decades, a conflict that could spark a war between two of the world’s great nations.

​British SAS soldier, Ty Dempsey, is on a mission to hunt down an infamous Russian terrorist in a remote region of Afghanistan. Dempsey hasn’t failed a mission yet, but when Axelle is kidnapped by the Russian, he is forced to choose between duty and his heart. He risks everything to save the determined, prickly woman he’s fallen for, but in doing so sparks a deadly series of events that threaten to expose the most successful spy in history. A spy who will destroy anyone who gets in his way.

And here is Jacqui's review:

As fan of both romance and mysteries, I am continually searching for a seamless and believable combination of both genres. Romantic suspense seems like it should have a lot of potential to satisfy this quest. Sometimes, I have come close to finding my ideal in books by authors like Suzanne Brockmann, Pamela Clare, Laura Griffin or Cindy Gerard. Sometimes, like now, the goal seems more elusive than ever. 

I am still scratching my head over this book. It is as if the author took every crazy event from a James Bond movie, threw them into a big pot, stirred them up and then subjected the main characters to all of them in random order.  I struggled to suspend disbelief and to stop myself from saying “Really??” every few pages. This reaction applied both to the romance and the suspense parts of the book. 

The characters seemed one-dimensional and under-developed. Our heroine, Axelle, is a beautiful but tough wildlife biologist. She has a tragic past, involving the deaths of not one but two close family members. We meet her when she is camping in the mountains of Afghanistan, trying to protect endangered snow leopards.  A poacher is tracking and killing the snow leopards using radio signals from the collars the heroine has previously placed on the leopards to monitor them. She is passionate about stopping this at all costs.  Fair enough, I guess, but we don’t really learn much more about her during the rest of the book.

In the same remote mountain range, we meet Ty, our hero, who is a British SAS trooper (is that the right word?). He also has a tragic past, which apparently gives him some kind of savior complex (this complex seems to be instantly activated upon catching sight of Axelle). The hero and his team are tracking one of the world's most evil terrorists/spies/assassins who has resurfaced after many years when everyone thought he was dead. Of course, the terrorist is Russian. And of course he has somehow been involved in training Islamic terrorists to blow up the world. 

And for the final “of course”, as we find out fairly quickly, the poacher and the terrorist are one and the same. He provides the reason for our hero and heroine to meet. He also gives Ty the opportunity to rescue Axelle on a number of occasions. Despite the fact that he is Evil (with a capital “E”), the book is interspersed with snippets that are written from the point of view of the terrorist.  I am not sure what we are meant to take from these interludes.  Are we meant to be sympathetic to him? I couldn’t tell.

As for the romance part, the meeting between hero and heroine is a little unbelievable. They run into each other literally in the middle of nowhere, in the wilderness, where both are tracking the poacher/terrorist. Despite these circumstances, they are each very quick to believe that the other is a “good guy”. On one hand, Ty has been watching Axelle – unbeknownst to her. In fact, he has done some lusting from afar while watching the heroine in her outdoor shower while he was carrying out surveillance. He thinks that she is unlikely to be the terrorist because she is also observed doing wildlife biologist-like activities around the camp and in the wilds. So maybe we can believe that his SAS super senses tell him she’s not in league with the terrorist.

By contrast, she doesn't know him from a hole in the ground. When they meet, he says “I am in the British army”. She asks “Are you the poacher?”  He says “No, I wouldn’t kill leopards. Leopards are endangered”. This is roughly paraphrased but it’s pretty close to their actual conversation. And that's that. That's all he needs to do to demonstrate to her that he is one of the good guys who will help her find the snow leopards to remove the collars and foil the poacher (or lure the terrorist out of hiding, from the British SAS perspective).

The story basically takes off from there. There are kidnappings, shootings, explosions, explosives strapped to someone's body, snowstorms, an avalanche, betrayals, a drugging, leopard attacks, boat and helicopter chases, more Russian spies, assassinations, submarines, water rescues and more. Throughout all this, our hero and heroine seem to spend all the time (a) on some kind of forced march through the Afghan mountains; (b) escaping from yet another tight spot; (c) asleep; (d) in separate locations because one of them has been kidnapped or sent away. And yet they somehow manage to have hot sex once (in a situation where they are REALLY not safe, as it turns out). Through of all this, we are asked to believe that they are able to get to know each other well enough to develop actual feelings for each other and to ultimately conclude that they are in luurrrve.

I suppose they each know that the other can hold up in some pretty freakishly adverse, not to mention highly improbable conditions. But I am not sure how that leads to the conclusion that you could put up with the other person in real life, dealing with everyday routines where no one is getting kidnapped or shot, where the major conflict consists of him leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube every night or an argument about whose turn it is to take out the garbage.

At one point, when they are digging themselves out of the snow after an avalanche, Axelle's internal dialogue tells us that Ty has not only “saved her life too many times to count” but that he feels “like an extension of herself. Her best friend.” Although we are told this, we are not shown it. They haven't spent any time together, let alone had any conversations or any interactions that might be the basis for this statement. Maybe we are meant to assume that they would be talking to each other while Ty is rescuing Axelle for the millionth time or while they are on the run again from the bad guys. I think I needed to see some of this on the page for the romance to work for me.

I was also questioning the whole SAS thing. For a super elite warrior, our hero seemed to spend a lot of time screwing up or deliberately not following orders, usually because his savior complex has kicked in and he needs to charge to the rescue because his super SAS senses tell him Axelle is in danger again. When the hero and heroine meet, he makes a serious error that lets her “get the drop on him” (his words from his POV) by holding him at gunpoint, something he notes that no one else has managed in years. I am no expert in reasonable performance expectations for a member of the British SAS, especially one with a distinguished career spanning decades.  But he did not come across to me as the kind of super soldier that he is supposed to be.

Once the espionage plot takes a few twists, and the contrived reason behind the poacher/terrorist's actions takes shape, and then there is an attempt to include various political machinations involving British prime ministers and ambassadors, I was pretty much ready to give up on this one. I soldiered on in the interests of completing this review.

The writing in this book is not terrible, but it is definitely clichéd and not particularly memorable. I caught several grammatical errors that pulled me out of the story (the difference between “effect” and “affect”, for example, is a trap for the unwary, but it drives me crazy when writers get it wrong).

The bottom line is that I couldn't get sucked into this story. Romantic suspense works for me when the story grabs me immediately with a moderately believable premise and doesn't let go. In those circumstances, I can suspend disbelief even when the plot gets kind of crazy, especially if I get the sense that the book doesn’t take itself too seriously. But this one never caught my interest. The whole thing seemed flat and contrived and it was a chore to read it through for a second time to make sure I hadn’t misremembered it for my review.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jazzlet says:

    I’d say SAS soldier not trooper. I am no expert in military terminology, but I’m sure about this in day to day conversation a Brit would talk of a soldier. After discussion with the OH we think there may be some regiments that call a particular rank trooper, but not the SAS although confusingly they are paratroopers …

    Of course I could be completely wrong!

    It certainly sounds like a dogs dinner of a book.

  2. 2
    astrakhan says:

    Axelle? You’re a better reader than I am; I don’t think I could make it past that being the main character’s name.

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