Fatal Judgment (Guardians of Justice #1)
By: Irene Hannon
The last thing U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor wants is a high-profile protection case that places him anywhere in the vicinity of the widow of his best friend from college – the icy federal judge Elizabeth Michaels. Convinced that Elizabeth’s single-minded drive to advance her career at the cost of her marriage destroyed her husband, leading to his untimely death, Jake determines to maintain a strict professional distance. But his resolve to maintain a cool detachment is tested when it quickly becomes apparent that Liz’s sister was murdered in a tragic case of mistaken identity, and the judge herself was the intended victim.
Grief-stricken and vulnerable, the woman Jake gets to know while attempting to protect Liz from the unknown killer’s second attempt is nothing like the prejudiced mental image he’d carried with him for years. Intensely private and dedicated to her work, Liz had never understood the animosity Jake had projected during their few brief encounters years earlier. As she struggles to cope with the guilt of a failed marriage, compounded by the brutal loss of her last surviving family member, Liz struggles to cling to her faith as her world seems to spiral increasingly out of control. When the murderer seizes a second chance to eliminate Liz, Jake finds himself in a race against time to save the life of the last woman he ever expected to invade is heart.
This is my second time to revisit the first installment of Hannon’s series focusing on the U.S. Marshal Service. Matt and Nick, FBI agents previously featured in her debut series, Heroes of Quantico, make brief appearances – but whether one is a long-time fan of Hannon’s work or new to her writing, revisiting Fatal Judgment has proven that Hannon’s work stands the test of time. Rather than a feeling of déjà vu, revisiting Jake and Liz’s story reminded me anew of Hannon’s facility for penning a swoon-worthy romance wrapped up in a nail-biting storyline.
From the opening pages, it’s clear that Hannon has done her homework into the protocols and logistics involved in a high-profile protection case. She excels at immersing the reader in the high-stakes, fast-paced world of the investigation, from evidence retrieval to the logistics of inter-agency cooperation. Hannon’s storyline has a ripped-from-the-headlines appeal that feels more relevant now than when it was first published in 2011. Given the fractious nature of the current political cycle, Fatal Judgment’s focus on a deranged individual’s determination to make a misguided political statement wrapped in the guise of patriotism lends the novel a jolting sense of realism – a legitimacy that can often be lacking in romantic suspense. This realistic spark is one of the many reasons I love Hannon’s suspense novels – the stories she crafts are compulsively readable because they are so incredibly well-researched and chillingly possible.
Irene Hannon is my go-to author for quality, un-put-downable romantic suspense, a distinction made even firmer by the happy realization that her novels stand the test of time and the often critical eye that can come from revisiting a favorite author’s earlier work. I love her heroes – she’s one of the best to write the male point-of-view in this or any genre, and U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor, a member of the service’s elite Special Operations Group, is no exception. Hannon adds depth to her hero by delving into his relationships with his siblings, his dedication to his work and the members of his family adding heart-warming depth to his character as the relationships are sketched on the page.
But while I love a handsome, angst-ridden hero, perhaps best of all Hannon’s heroines are no shy wallflowers that wilt in the fact of danger. Despite the heartbreak of her failed marriage and the horror of her sister’s murder, Liz is a fighter, smart and savvy in the face of danger. Passionate about her work and dedicated to her faith, Liz’s determination to excel in her field add a unique depth to the storyline. And I adore the fact that Jake and Liz had a complicated history of preconceptions to worth through. Despite the accelerated pace of their developing relationship, the mere fact that they have shared “baggage” to work through is a refreshing change from stories where couples – imperiled or not – who’ve just met fall in love.
Despite knowing the story’s outcome this time around, I found I still could not put this novel down. With a subtly woven faith element that feels completely organic to the storyline and characters’ history and experiences, Jake and Liz’s journey to overcome past scars in the face of life-threatening danger results in a compelling, page-turning read. Hannon delivers a tautly-plotted thriller with a swoon-worthy hero, sizzling moments of romantic tension, and a realistic, spine-chilling threat – all elements that have made her a star author of romantic suspense. I absolutely cannot wait one of her well-crafted worlds next!
About the book:
U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor has seen plenty of action during his years in law enforcement. But he'd rather go back to Iraq than face his next assignment: protection detail for federal judge Liz Michaels. His feelings toward the coldhearted workaholic haven't warmed in the five years since she drove her husband - and Jake's best friend - to despair...and possible suicide.
As the danger mounts and Jake gets to know Liz better, he's forced to revise his opinion of her. And when it becomes clear that an unknown enemy may want her dead, the stakes are raised. Because now both her life - and his heart - are in danger.
Full of suspense and romance, Fatal Judgment is a thrilling story that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.
Note: This is an edited and expanded version of my original review, first published in January 2011.