What happens when you finally realize all the ways you’ve been stabbed in the back (sometimes literally) over the course of a lifetime? Do you get mad? Probably. Do you get even? Without a question. Such is the story of Cecelia Clark and her apparent guardian angel, Gordon Hale. These two cross paths accidentally, but a series of very unfortunate events thrust them back into each other’s respective paths, forcing them to learn more about one another, come to terms with their painful upbringings and rely on each other to eventually face their demons head-on.
The Hardest of Ways is a the debut novel from author Rashawnda Ungerer, and to be simple, it’s a great start. Ungerer weaves an intricate story of new and old romances, not-so organized crime, and a ridiculous amount of killing, doing so in a way I didn’t expect, but found enticing all the same.
The author manages to strike a healthy balance between the vivid, gruesome revenge killings and the tension that comes along with the physical and emotional trauma the protagonists experience. There’s also an ongoing exploration of relationships that appeals to the more romantic reader, but it doesn’t become so prevalent it sidetracks the story.
The Hardest of Ways is a substantial read, but it is also an easy read. I was pulled in right away and the pacing ebbs and flows enough so that the action isn’t non-stop on the edge of your seat, but also you’re not stuck waiting for something tangible to happen. The way in which background stories are presented also helps the plot unfold naturally. The suspense factor is strong throughout and I never felt I could truly predict what was going to happen next, which is a huge credit to the author.
I think this will readily appeal to anyone who’s a fan of military, organized crime, covert operations, international crime, and good old-fashioned violence. The key for me was that I’m not particularly “into” these. Nonetheless, Ungerer made me a fan here. The inclusion of the various organizations, crime families, exotic locales, and action scenes are entirely vivid and transcend a reader’s partiality to any genre in particular. Good writing is good writing.
One of the areas I had difficulty with while reading this book was with the placement and introduction of flashback sequences. There are times when the story reverts to a past experience and you don’t realize it until you’re halfway through or once it comes back to present-day. I started to look out for this and could sense it eventually, but the first few passages of this type left me confused.
I also found the descriptions rich, but in some places they were overly so. With the subplots involved in this book, detail is an absolute necessity so the reader is able to have enough information to differentiate between the numerous characters, plot lines, and relationships. However, some of the descriptions were either excessive without adding value or were generally redundant. I found this more noticeable earlier in the book, but once I got into the story, it wasn’t as apparent.
That being said, I do appreciate how the Ungerer handled the introduction of new characters. There are easily more than twenty distinct characters in The Hard Way between the two main families, overseas characters, and military contacts. I would have loved a character index of sorts to refer to, but I definitely was able to survive without it. The characters remained unique personalities and their reactions to what happens are genuine and believable. Ungerer did a fine job of showcasing the full range of human nature, as good or ugly as it could be.
I’ve seen some indications that this is the first in a series of books, so I’m extremely intrigued to see where Ungerer goes from here.