What can a catastrophic dam break in Arapahoe, Colorado have to do with the safety of the U.S. President? Is it possible that members of the highest echelons of American government would conspire with a terrorist group to take down the President and form their own administration? And could the CIA and FBI be secret co-conspirators in a nefarious plot to pull off a coup de tat that would catapult certain men into the Oval Office? These questions are at the core of Iris Johansen's new novel.
In DEAD AIM, a tightly plotted thriller, Johansen has created two characters forced to protect themselves and each other because an evil force is hunting them down. Each of them saw something that has put her/his life at risk because s/he, respectively, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They each witnessed a different event and, while those experiences bring them together, neither is happy about working with the other. But since the same assassin has both of them in his cross hairs, it behooves them to work as a team.
Alex Graham is a gutsy, outspoken, stubborn photojournalist whose pictorial portfolio has born witness to horrendous natural disasters and the most horrific aftermath of terrorist attacks. She is a righteous woman known to put down her camera, pick up a shovel and help dig people out from under everything, from mud to bricks and mortar. Over the years, she has made friends with Sarah Logan and her rescue dog, Monty. In DEAD AIM, all three of them are in "rescue mode" in Colorado.
Graham decides to photograph the disaster from above the gorge. She enlists the aid of Ken Nader, helicopter pilot and long time pal, to drop her at the place where she can get the best shots; they agree he will pick her up in an hour. "The entire valley was spread before her. The tops of houses drowned in the floodwaters below. Moving lanterns and floodlights dotted the site of the landslide. Men and women looking small and helpless as ants trying to stop the death and destruction." Anyone who had the temerity to express an opinion said that only an earthquake could have caused this disaster.
While she is busy clicking away, Alex hears voices and suddenly sees "A rifle lifting, aiming at Ken's helicopter. A fiery explosion that lit the sky." She screams. She is heard. She is now the prey hunted by a deadly assassin.
Enter Judd Morgan, rogue government operative who took himself out of the fray when CIA hit men put a sanction on his life. He agrees to protect Alex when Sarah's rich and influential husband makes him an offer he can't turn down. Against his better judgment, he takes the job, which forces him to expose himself to Runne, the deadly assassin who vowed to kill him and is also after Alex. "Ignore the [money]. He had to look out for his own neck. Arapahoe Junction." What had she seen that put her in mortal danger? "What the devil did he care if the woman was idiot enough to think she could tilt at windmills" … with her idealistic and totally simplistic worldview. He takes the job!
Once these events are in place, DEAD AIM takes off like a bullet. Johansen has written a slick story punctuated with the elements generally expected in this kind of novel: conspiracy, murder, betrayal, high stakes, lies, bad folks, good folks, someone who needs to be saved, someone to do the saving and, in this case, a very predictable love story. For fans of the genre, this book offers a fast read with an engaging cast of characters caught up in events that are chillingly real when juxtaposed against events taking place in today's world.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 21, 2011