Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Doesn't Kill You: My Review: Listen to my show at Five April 19th when I interview Iris

What Doesn’t Kill You: Iris Johansen

Why would the CIA risk lives just to save a known assassin and owner of an apothecary who majors in creating lethal poisons? Why would they risk not only the lives of agents but the head of the CIA as well? Why when saved would this dangerous man go back for something disappear, get shot and then seem unnerved by the entire incident? Why would the CIA allow him to dictate the interrogation timeline and guard him for three days in order for him to recover in his own timeframe? What is the reason they want to protect him? Hu Chang is a valuable commodity to the CIA and many agents risk their lives saving him from the torture being inflicted on him. But, just what is his relationship with Catherine Ling and why was the head of the CIA, Venable brought in still remains to be seen as the events unfold.

Catherine Ling just returned from a mission in Peru and the only thing she wants is to see her son Luke. Luke was held captive and used to hurt Catherine forcing him to develop his own hard shell. Luke does not interact with other kids or even go to school. He has a private tutor and envelops himself in books and literature, which is his form of therapy or escape. Sports he feels are a waste of time and Catherine, his mother someone he worries about but hardly knows.

As the discussion continues Catherine remembers what happened to Luke the horrors inflicted upon him and the fact that he can deal with life and be smart and brilliant young man is admirable and thanks to his tutor Sam. Luke has learned survival skills, using weapons and killing from his kidnappers now he wants to learn more about Catherine and what she does. Added to the mix his is fascination with Hu Chang and his medicines.

Bringing it back to Hu Chang we learn about the poisons he added in his medicine to heal himself and wonder just why Venable is putting up with his demands. But, when Hu Chang receives a call that a package was delivered outside what Venable finds is one dead CIA agent and now Catherine and her planned time with Luke will once again be put aside.

Hu Chang is a powerful and magnetic character that is always in control of his actions and knows how to manipulate others into doing what he wants even if it goes against their beliefs or general instincts. As the author describes how Catherine saved his life and prevented him from a sure death, she flashes back to when she meets him, who engages her service and the fact that at 17 she was a true killing machine. Saving his life was just the tip of the iceberg so to speak as his shop was destroyed, her boat blown up and both forced into an unholy alliance where Catherine wound up his student. Learning to create his potions, understanding the how lethal they can be she became a willing or maybe unwilling student of his. Learning to create the herbal drinks and trying to create some type of happy medium. Catherine preferred to be alone and Hu Chang was as the author states a solitary man so why did they blend so well and why did they form an alliance that would take Catherine away from her son and off to Hong Kong to rescue and save him again?

From the revenge he sought for his parent’s death to the illnesses he can create with his potions the author has created a plot so intriguing it is hard to put the book down until you learn the dramatic ending. But, there is much more to learn before we return to the present. But, as Catherine tried to push Hu Chang away somehow they drew closer. Two people that needed no one definitely needed each other. A strange pair yet both different in some ways and yet the same when you look deeper. Catherine cold and calculating and able to take care of herself and trusting no one and Hu Chang a powerful man who uses his potions as his weapon to take care of anyone that requires his personal brand of justice. Just how they form this unholy alliance is quite remarkable as you will learn when you read this outstanding and stand alone novel focusing on CIA agent Catherine Ling: What Doesn’t Kill You by New York Times best selling author Iris Johansen. This is Iris at her best.

The intended mark is a man named Nardik whose history with both Hu Chang and Catherine go way back. An agent is taken out and Catherine is sent by Venable to clean up the mess and take care of the situation. But, after arriving in Hong Kong and staying at Hu Chang’s shop she is blindsided once again and what happens endears her even more to this powerful yet illusive man whose friendship and trust she values above all others. One more agent down, one more miracle drug to hope for and the quest is on to take this man out before anyone else is killed. Added to the mix is her son Luke’s fascination with a book given to him by Hu Chang that he is working on translating in order to understand the hidden meaning within the pages.

The author’s flashbacks help enlighten the reader to Catherine’s past and why she resorted and still do to killing as her only means of survival. She take the reader into the mind of a cold blooded killer, we witness what she did in the past and we understand the cruelty that was inflicted on her and why she did in order to escape captivity. Placed in an orphanage and feeling all-alone no child should be sold into slavery as a prostitute and made to live the life she did. As we learn to understand the relationship between Hu Chang and Catherine and what brought them together we also learn the back-story of how she came to work for The Company and Venable. Under Hu Chang’s tutelage she even learned how to mix medicines, potions and poisons and the respect between them was more than just mentor and student more like father and daughter. Revenge comes to those who deserve it and Hu Chang proved his loyalty to Catherine in a way that most would not be capable of.

As we reflect and turn to the present and the agents down we learn more about Catherine’s son Luke, his relationship with her and his reasons for keeping his distance. One book that Hu Chang gave him seems to be keeping him more focused and with the help of a close friend he just might find out its mysteries and much more.

Then, another surprise for Catherine as the help she wanted arrived but not who. John Gallo, Eve Duncan’s lover and the father of her late child Bonnie managed to get into her room without her knowledge. The chemistry in the air was thicker than a lab filled with chemists working on a new formula.

But, this formula is the one that Hu Chang is creating that everyone wants. Just what it does will stun the reader and who wants it everyone in the world.

Direct target, taunting Nardik and coming face to face with Hu Chang Gallo and Catherine challenge each other and who comes out on top remains to be seen as they are playing more than just a dangerous and deadly game with a lethal predator. With the three of them heading for Hong Kong what is Hu Chang’s plan to end it all. What will he create to get rid of Nardik and just how painful will it be? Added to the mix is Luke who will need more protection than Sam can offer as the danger gets closer and things start to heat up even more.

The danger is real and when it affects Luke Catherine wants to shelter him but with his friend Kelly and Sam the truth comes out and his frustrations and feeling towards his mother too.

But, the plot runs deeper than just Hu Chang all the up to the potential of the latest Presidential Candidates and possibly eliminating one. Just who would go so far as to kill an opponent? What part Hu Chang play to get back his drug. Pondera is the name of the drug in question. It is not something you want prescribed for yourself nor would you want to take it? Why? Hu Chang is the only one who can reveal that and he has the formula. When Luke disappears again Catherine is willing to make a trade until she realizes who has him and why? The secret lies within the pages of the book he is transfixed on and the reason you won’t believe.

As the pieces of the puzzle come together and lives are at stake the end result you won’t believe and what happens between Catherine, Luke and Hu Chang you won’t expect. Where they will wind up and what gift or power is in that book will definitely cause the reader to have much pause for thought. A final offer made to Catherine by Chen Lu and Hu Chang that will change her life and Luke’s. What will be the final outcome between her and John Gallo. One strong plot, one strong CIA agent named Catherine Ling and one man named Hu Chang who does what must be done. Just what our outstanding author has in store next them remains to be seen. What is the fate of Pondera and who has the formula? That too is a secret that will not be revealed. This is one book that you won’t be able to put down once you start it. I know I couldn’t.

Fran Lewis: reviewer

This book gets: FIVE SHOOTING STARS 

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