Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella
Note: In my review of Cold Evidence, I mentioned that there was a teeny bit of a cliffhanger at the end, which would play out in the next book. Because the two stories are linked by this plot point and a few recurring characters, there will be some small spoilers for Cold Evidence in this review.
Rachel Grant is – in case it’s not obvious by now – my go-to author for romantic suspense. She’s got the knack of getting the balance between romance and plot just right; the pacing in her books is spot on, just the right mix of fast-paced action and calmer periods of reflection or love scenes, and her characters are strong, likeable and easy to root for. In this series, she’s drawn strongly on her background as an historian and archaeologist, and many of her characters work in those professions, as marine archaeologists, military historians and the like, all of which I find fascinating. In Poison Evidence, the seventh book in the Evidence series, we meet Ivy MacLeod, a highly intelligent, self-confessed tech-geek with a passion for geological and geographical archaeology, who works for NHHC (Naval History and Heritage Command) and whose latest invention – a complex computerised mapping system using infrared and Lidar she nicknames CAM – is about to undergo its first field test in the small Pacific island nation of Palau.
Ivy has had a rough time of it over the last couple of years. Her ex-husband, whom she had loved, was exposed as a traitor to the US and arrested for arms trafficking, and dragged Ivy’s name through the mud with him, even though they were divorced by that time. With the trial looming, Ivy is trying to rebuild her life, and has buried herself in her work at NHHC. Having fought to obtain the necessary funding for CAM’s field-testing, she has finally been given the go ahead and has travelled to Palau in order to map the terrain and wreckage of an old, WW2 battle site at Peleliu.
The night before she is due to begin, she attends a reception for local bigwigs, and is pleased to see that Jack Keaton is also in attendance. It’s been two years since she’s thought about sex or found a man attractive, but the sight of Jack stripped to the waist, all toned muscle and smooth, tanned skin as he’d worked aboard the decks of his charter yacht, seems to have kick-started the libido she thought had died along with her marriage. He’s as hot in formal wear as he is in nothing but cut-off shorts (although frankly, Ivy prefers the shorts), so she’s delighted when he rescues her from a boring official who seems to want to grill her about her ex-husband’s activities.
Not long after this, all hell breaks loose when the party is crashed by a group of terrorists – almost certainly her ex’s allies, out to get hold of CAM. Jack acts quickly, disposes of as many of them as he can and then whisks Ivy – and CAM – to safety aboard his yacht. There, the attraction that has been sparking between them all evening is intensified by the adrenaline rush following the attack and escape. Jack is the first man Ivy has been attracted to in two years, he’s just saved her life, he’s seriously hot and they’re both consenting adults who need to blow off some steam. The sex is intense and satisfying for them both… although Jack knows that Ivy will hate him in the morning, and for something far more serious than an ill-advised one night stand.
Now to that cliffhanger I mentioned. Remember Parker Reeves from Cold Evidence, the Coastguard who was friends with Luke Sevick, helped him save thousands of lives and then was revealed to be a Russian spy? Yep. He’s not Parker Reeves – or Jack Keaton for that matter – he’s Dmitri Veselov, born to a Russian father and American mother in Berlin and, after they were killed in an accident when he was fourteen, recruited by the GRU (the Russian CIA), trained by them and then embedded as a spy in the US, where he has spent most of his life. After the incident aboard the Osprey, Dmitri disappeared and hoped he’d be presumed dead, but his Russian masters have somehow learned he’s alive and are pulling the strings once again. His younger sister and her son are being held hostage, and if Dmitri is ever to see them alive again, he must retrieve a prototype Russian surveillance drone that disappeared somewhere near Palau. To do that, he needs CAM, and to make use of CAM, he needs Ivy, because the equipment is biometrically coded to her and she is the only person who knows how to operate it.
Naturally, Ivy is furious when she discovers that Jack/Dmitri isn’t who she’d believed him to be, and berates herself for yet again falling for a manipulative bastard. By this time, Dmitri has taken them out into the middle of the ocean, so there’s nowhere for Ivy to run; and even though he knows he deserves her mistrust, he insists that his actions in taking them away from land are keeping her and CAM safe and that he has no intentions of harming her. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Ivy does eventually come to believe that Dmitri really is one of the good guys, and she agrees to help him as far as she is able. But of course, things are never that simple…
Poison Evidence is quite possibly my favourite book of the series, mostly because I fell pretty hard for Dmitri, who is a guy caught between a rock and a hard place if ever there was one. He’s almost a tragic hero; he has learned to expect little from life and is resigned to his fate – until Ivy, with her brilliant brain, her warmth, humour and hot-geekiness comes along and gives him something to live for.
I’ve enjoyed listening to Nicol Zanzarella in other books in the series, and she delivers another enjoyable and accomplished performance here. She’s a terrific vocal actress, well able to convey the heightened emotions experienced by the characters and to propel the narrative with conviction and urgency when required. The female characters – Ivy, Mara and Undine – are all clearly distinguishable from one another, and as I’ve noted before, her mezzo-range, slightly husky voice works really well for portraying the men. She differentiates well between all the characters in general, although I will admit to there being a few times when I needed to listen for dialogue tags, mainly if Ian (from Covert Evidence) or Luke were speaking in a scene featuring a number of male characters. The bad-guys are easily recognisable, but perhaps because Luke and Ian are former heroes of their own books and need to sound suitably hero-like, it’s not quite as easy to find different ways to portray them. That’s just my own speculation, and ultimately, it wasn’t a big problem and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the listen in any way.
While several characters from previous books make appearances here, Poison Evidence works well as a standalone as Ms. Grant includes enough information about everyone for the listener to be able to easily work out how they all stand in relation to each other. The plot is – as always – extremely well researched and put-together, and the chemistry between the two leads is electric; the sex scenes are steamy but the author never loses sight of the emotional connection she is building between them, too.
At present, this is the last book in the series, although the author has said that she plans to return to it after she’s completed her current Flashpoint trilogy. I for one am very glad of that, as it’s clear that there are still stories to be told in this universe. Poison Evidence is suspenseful, romantic and hugely entertaining; it earns a very strong recommendation
TITLE: Poison Evidence
AUTHOR: Rachel Grant
NARRATED BY: Nicol Zanzarella
GENRE: Romantic Suspense
STEAM FACTOR: 5
REVIEWER: CazBuy Poison Evidence by Rachel Grant on Amazon EXCERPT: