(Review contains some story spoilers – mainly from the early part of the book)
I came across this author through social media networking, and would first like to point out she offers a lot of good advice for independent writers/publishers, and is also very positive in her correspondence which is just what authors need sometimes.
D.A. Bale authors a blog where she often reviews books, mainly in the mystery and thriller genres. So be sure to check this out if you want more information on the author.
Because of her helpful and encouraging advice – and the badass female protagonist preference of mine 🙂 – I downloaded a free copy of her novel Running into the Darkness. I should point out this wasn’t a special gift from the author, and she hasn’t asked for this review. The book is free on most if not all major retail sites (electronic format).
With the introduction out of the way, onto the review:
The novel is an action thriller with some mystery elements, and focuses primarily on a young woman named Samantha Bartlett. When the book begins, she is a resident doctor at a hospital who soon comes into conflict with her boss over her treatment of a patient. From there things quickly get complicated after Samantha receives some tragic news regarding her grandmother, and her life takes a very different – much darker – turn.
The opening chapters are something of a whirlwind journey, involving a tragic accident (or was it?) from the past, revelations about Samantha’s family, the assassination of a congressman, a mysterious stalker in dark glasses, and an adulterous President of the United States who abuses his power. At times it became somewhat difficult to follow, with new characters introduced all over the place and seemingly unconnected events. However, the action did help break up what could have been a slow burner beginning, and it kept me reading to find out how it all tied in.
After a while, Samantha is led to a mysterious letter from a deceased relative. I won’t spoil the contents, but suffice it to say the note reveals she has a personal connection to the aforementioned President, and the tragic ‘accident’ was in fact murder. After that the main story soon kicks in, and Samantha is recruited into a shadowy organisation called the ‘Elite’ who operate from underground. There is she transformed into a sexual beauty / deadly assassin (that classic combination), with an explosive chip implanted in her head just in case she disobeys her new employers. The training sequences reminded me of La Femme Nikita (without the other recruits to keep Sam company). And when she’s done with all the kickboxing, political history lessons and seduction, the Elite send her after the President. How’s that for a first mission?
One thing that really impressed me were the frequent action sequences. They were very reminiscent of many bestseller thrillers I’ve read, excellently paced and with just enough detail to picture the scene without bogging it down. Dialogue was often snappy and almost movie-like, with a lot of brief, tense scenes thrown in among the longer exposition and plentiful conflict. There are lots of mysterious characters with equally mysterious agendas, double dealings, moles, and brutal assassinations of unfortunate people who get too close to the truth.
That truth remains very elusive throughout the book, as it soon becomes clear the Elite haven’t told Samantha everything. In addition to her point of view, the book also follows her ex-lover Joe, a cop turned FBI agent. He’s attempting to piece together the mystery from a different angle, and track down Samantha who almost everyone believes is dead except him. I particularly liked these sections of the book. At times it read like an intricate conspiracy thriller with shady century old companies and super-secret groups up to no good – and more than one attempt to silence Joe.
One thing I should point out is this is most definitely an adult book. There are VERY explicit descriptions of sexual acts and violence throughout, particularly the former (won’t add any more details because it would spoil the story). Suffice it to say the author holds nothing back. While a certain character is portrayed as despicable, he also has more depth than is first apparent and felt surprisingly fleshed out by the end. Various political figures are presented as less than pleasant, to say the least. Given the author’s own political background – and possibly life experiences – it certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture of our leaders (but did we ever think they were squeaky clean anyway?)
Some of the later revelations / plot developments stretched disbelief well past breaking point. I can’t really say too much because it would spoil the story, but the identities of two villains felt a little much. And the novel veered well into sci-fi territory with an anti-aging formula, elaborate underground lairs, and nanotechnology. Having said that, most action books and movies are over the top, and the characters/action kept me reading all the way to the end. If you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll find Running into the Darkness to be a very satisfying thrill ride.
The book is part one of a series of three I believe, with this book followed by Piercing the Darkness. Not all loose ends are tied up, and it’s not a complete victory for Samantha. To her, survival is a victory in itself. She finishes in a much darker place than she began. Hence the rather apt title. The book is very dark indeed, delving into the bad side of human nature with few – if any – truly good guys/gals around. Joe comes about the closest, with Samantha herself involved in scheming, heinous sexual acts and murder (if not entirely willingly).
I’d recommend any adult thriller fan try this book (especially if they can get it for free). The author has an excellent sense of the action, and has clearly put a lot of work into this book. I found maybe one typo and the various viewpoints were distinct, making me feel I was there with the heroine on her wild adventures, and the various evildoers perfecting their ultimate plan.
Some Links to get the book: