Monday, May 18, 2015

ARC Review: Behind the Mask ( The Associates #4 ) by Carolyn Crane

Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane


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?




This is my 7th Carolyn Crane books. I can hardly believe myself, after all these years I'm still stalking her release like a crazy fan. As for Behind the Mask, the #4 of The Associates series, this book can work as a standalone. I read #1 and #2 and miss out #3. It had been so long and I hardly remember much of what went down. But once I started on this, I'm totally immersed into Zelda and Hugo's story. 

Zelda, 38, an experienced field agent, ex-CIA and co-leader of the Associates. During her recent mission, her plan went awry and she ended up in the middle of a shoot out and being captured by the elusive, lethal and legendary mercenary Kabakas.

Hugo is the infamous Kabakas that many thought was dead in a fire. Now he's leading a quiet life with Paolo, the boy he found and tending to his savinca verde bush. He never thought he will don his mask again after all this time, but when El Gorrion decided to attack his town in order to pressure the farmer to give up their land, Hugo decided to instill justice and seek revenge.

Assuming that Zelda is just a dime a dozen American whore, Hugo decided she will be their cook and Paolo's tutor. Zelda was all out of sort, suspecting Hugo might or might not be Kabakas, the man she was fascinated with and wanted to hunt all these years. I've got to say Zelda's admiration and fascination with Kabakas ran deep and make her questioned her judgement more than once. Once she confirmed his identity, will she give him up to the Associates?

Zelda was self declared master at coldfucking. What a term, definitely a first for me. Too bad we didn't get to see her coldfucking in action because went she fuck Hugo, it was undeniably super hot! Zelda was living with a ton of guilt and shame for years when she gave up crucial information after being tortured. Though I did find her repeated inner self chastising monologue a tad too much.

Hugo is one stoic and brooding hero. I'm such a sucker for these lethal ass kicker who really know how to brood impressively. Hugo used to be larger than life and feared by everyone, but after a tragedy that strike him, he left all behind and decided to live out the rest of his life in peace. He is a man afraid to hope or love. The way he was reluctant to call Paolo by his name even though we knew how much he love the boy make me want to cry out for him. This man who lived such a hard life deserved happiness too.

The presence of Zelda spark something Hugo and we can see how these supposed enemy had so much common right down to their guilt and their scars both physically and emotionally. 

"It's worse, isn't it? It's not what is done to you, but what you do to others that can hurt the most."
"Guilt makes you small."

There are so much sexual tension and wariness between these two individual who trust no one. Their motto is leave no prisoner. I spent the entire read worrying something bad is going to happen and someone is going to get hurt because I knew these highly trained people always tend to make the logical choice, but not what I think the right choice. 

"I know your heart. You may be something of an enemy, but I do know your heart."

Behind the Mask had all the ingredients for a perfect romantic suspense. The romantic element and the suspense was balance perfectly. I am very invested in the budding love and also the thing that went on with the the crops, El Gorrion and the Associates. I devoured every single page effortlessly and there isn't a lull moment at all. 

Though Carolyn Crane did mentioned that the technologies and facts that were mentioned in her books are mostly made up, it felt very convincing to me. At least until I decided to google it. Hugo loves his savinca plant, so I went to google the shit out ofsavinca verde, only to find out that Carolyn Crane make up that name. Oh well. 

The reason that I didn't give a full 5 stars was because Zelda did something, which I find out of character for an experience field agent. It didn't affect my overall love for the book, but since her action was the catalyst for the climatic ending, I felt like it should have been pointed out. Carolyn should have think of a better way to make it work without using that unbelievable ploy.

Recommended for those who enjoy romantic suspense with stoic lethal hero and kickass heroine. It can work as a standalone, reading the previous books is not require to get yourself immerse into the story.

She pressed her forehead to his chest, felt the strong, steady heartbeat of this killer who trusted her heart. Hugo, the killer who liked to carry her, trying so valiantly to help contain her darkness.

Rating 4.5/5