I had to privilege to receive a ARC from one of my favorite authors, Carolyn Crane, recently. If you’re not familiar with Carolyn’s work she writes suspense romance. The ARC I finished last night is the fourth installment in her Undercover Associates series. I fell in love with his series with book one Against the Dark, so when the opportunity came up that I could read book four Behind the Mask I jumped on it.
When her long lost sister–a prostitute–is won in a card game by a brutal drug cartel, Zelda knows what she has to do: take her place. Save her. Focus on infiltrating the shadowy group on behalf of the Associates, and try not to think about why she left the spying game years ago. She’s slept with dangerous criminals before; she can do it again.
Hugo Martinez is one of South America’s most lethal and wanted men, a legendary mercenary living on a windswept mountain. Even at the height of the war he wasn’t in the habit of taking women captive, but the American whore has seen his face. And he and the orphan boy need a cook. He shouldn’t want this woman, but there’s something so unusual about her…
Little by little, Zelda finds herself falling for her captor…but is he the killer she’s been hunting all these years?
Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane – releases on Tuesday May 19th.
This Associates novel takes us behind the eyes of one of the founders of the Associates organization. Which also means we see into the psyche of both of the founders. In every Associates novel we see Dax the front man/founder. Normally we get glimpses of Zelda, as Dax is talking to her or about her but never anything from her POV. In Behind the Mask we finally see the heart behind the Associates mask. The person who, even though she doesn’t have contact with the guys on the team, does her best to make sure they all come home from their missions.
Zelda is the one with the training, and she puts it to good use for her men, now she has to use all that training to keep herself alive as she going back into the field to save her sister. Little did she know she’d be facing the fears that took her out of the field as a CIA field agent. It’s been years since she’s done any really field work and posing as her strung out prostitute sister shouldn’t be to hard. All she has to do is go undercover into a drug lords compound and gather files what could go wrong. Everything.
What I just describe happens in the few chapters, and it’s none stop tension the time. The tension isn’t always action but there is a lot of that too. With Zelda trying to stay in character as her sister she has to try and do what her sister would do or what people would except a prostitute to say or do which for someone who’s a botanist and former CIA forensic botanist and field agent that’s not always easy. Plus there’s a reason she’s no longer a field agent and its not a happy memory.
As she gets moved around from one bad guy to an even worse killer things start to get interesting when her “savor” shows up and becomes his captive.
Zelda tries to maintain her cover but also let a little bit of herself shine through to Hugo sparks start to fly. On the flip side Dax still needs to solve the reason that Zelda when down to South American in the first place and now he has a new target whether Zelda’s on board or not.
The tug and pull of the Associates founders is down right scary at times and it had me on the sit of my chair. So did the way Zelda faced her fears. While many may see her as weak because of her insecurities, they actually help her I think. They make her a better person over all. She’s able to help Hugo and Paolo and they allow her to pull back the layers Hugo hides behind. Plus being out in the field and back in South America awakens parts of herself she’s been hiding for so many years.
Hugo also learns what’s been missing in his life up on the mountain, as Zelda stands up to him and brings life, fun, happiness and knowledge to life for Paolo and Hugo. It’s something both men desperately need – understanding, compassion and love.
Unlike the first three Associates novels in Behind the Mask both main characters are broken is some way. Others have had some kind of troubled past but none of them have past like Hugo and Zelda. These two are very guarded especially Hugo with who and what he used to be, besides with Paolo he kind of has to be.
This chapter in the Associates also brought with it a lot more blood and carnage. Granted the settling is the jungles of South America with warlords and drug lords so it is to be expected. In the first three novels the associate out in the field typically tries not to kill, blow up, and/or torture anyone. While Zelda doesn’t try to do any of those things there is no trying to stop any of those acts in this book. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing it actually makes it more really having it in places and it adds to the suspense of the book. Behind the Mask is a dark novel that you won’t be able to put down.
About Carolyn Crane
After spending her youth thoroughly obsessed with Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy and convinced that her suburban neighborhood was awash in dangerous secrets, Carolyn Crane grew up to become a RITA-nominated author of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and other tales of adventure and love; she also writes erotic romance about bank robbers as Annika Martin.
Her books have been published by Random House and Samhain; these days, this perfectionistic control-freak of an author likes to indie publish. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two cats and works a straight job as a freelance marketing writer. During rare moments when she’s not at her computer, she can be found reading in bed, running, or helping animals.