The Barnes & Noble Review
Passion, power, and political intrigue clash with deadly results in Iris Johansen's latest tale of romantic suspense, Final Target. At the heart of this fast-paced thriller is the seven-year-old daughter of the president of the United States, who has witnessed something so awful it's left her in a catatonic state. Now, the woman who hopes to save her must trust her heart and her life to a mysterious man with a nefarious reputation.
When masked intruders break into a presidential stronghold and try to kidnap the president's daughter, Cassie, the child witnesses several brutal murders. She survives, thanks to the efforts of Michael Travis, a man who skirts the law and makes a living in the international underworld, but the shock leaves her dwelling in a state somewhere between consciousness and death. The president puts his daughter in the hands of Dr. Jessica Riley, who helped her younger sister, Melissa, recover from a similar condition a few years earlier. Though fully recovered, Melissa's bout with catatonia left her with a curious side effect: the ability to merge her mind with the consciousness of others who are catatonic.
As Cassie's condition worsens, her only hope lies with two people: Melissa, who can get into Cassie's mind, and Travis, whose presence has a calming affect on the child's life-threatening seizures. But there's a problem: Travis has a host of deadly assassins breathing down his neck and isn't inclined to stay, yet his conscience won't let him desert the child, either. So he takes Cassie, Jessica, and Melissa with him, sneaking them out of the country and into Europe, where he becomes embroiled in a deadly game of international intrigue. With the president's forces now breathing down his neck in the belief that he has kidnapped Cassie, and his attentions increasingly drawn toward Melissa, whom he has come to care for, Travis becomes distracted enough to make a deadly miscalculation. The tragedy that results will have a monumental effect on everyone involved and may mean the end of any hopes they hold for the future.
Johansen is a master at keeping her readers on edge, and Final Target is a perfect example of this master at work. The pace zips, the plot twists, and each turn of the page brings a new surprise. But the best part of Johansen's latest effort is her characteristically explosive mix of chilling terror and heated passions. (Beth Amos)
Beth Amos is the author of several novels, including Second Sight, Eyes of Night, and Cold White Fury.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At the center of Johansen's latest suspense thriller (after The Search) is the Wind Dancer, a priceless gold statue of the winged horse Pegasus. The statue has been in the Andreas family since the fall of Troy and now, centuries later, U.S. President Jonathan Andreas is in Paris to lend the family heirloom to a museum. On the night of the ceremony, his daughter, seven-year-old Cassie, is awakened at the family's farmhouse in the south of France by masked men who murder her nanny and her nurse, intent on kidnapping Cassie and ransoming her in exchange for the Wind Dancer. Cassie is saved in the nick of time by the arrival of Michael Travis, international underworld information dealer, but eight months later, the child is being treated in the Virginia home of psychiatrist Dr. Jessica Riley and Jessica's psychically extrasensitive sister, Melissa, for severe catatonic trauma. She hasn't spoken a word since the raid and has retreated into an imaginary tunnel where the Wind Dancer rescues her from pursuing monsters. Michael Travis then reappears and lures Cassie and the Riley sisters into a web of intrigue, taking them to Amsterdam, Paris and eventually back to the scene of the crime. There's a lot going on here, what with the telepathic dream sequences, a demented art fanatic determined to steal the statue, a subplot involving the Russian diamond cartel and the romantic tension between Melissa and Travis. Johansen's fans will enjoy the swirling plot lines, staccato dialogue and abrupt scene shifts that mark her style. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
1Copyright 2001 by Iris Johansen
"I'm sorry to have to throw this at you during finals, Melissa." Karen Novak's voice was hesitant. "If there was any other way . . ."
"You want me to move out." It was no surprise. Melissa had known the decision was coming.
"Just until you have this problem under control. We've scouted out an efficiency for you about a block from here. You can move in right away."
Melissa turned to her other roommate. "Wendy?"
Wendy Sendle nodded miserably. "We think you'd be better off in an apartment by yourself."
"And you certainly would be better off without me." She held up a hand as Wendy opened her mouth to protest and said gently, "It's okay. I understand. I'm not blaming you. I'll pack up and be out by tonight."
"You don't have to be in a hurry. Tomorrow would be—" Wendy broke off as Karen gave her a pointed glance. "We'll be glad to help you pack."
Melissa had known they wouldn't want to risk another night with her. "Thank you." She tried to smile. "Now, stop looking so guilty. We've been friends for years. This isn't going to change anything."
"I hope not," Karen said. "You know we love you. We took it as long as we could, Melissa."
"I know. You've been very tolerant." She should have moved out weeks ago, but she'd felt safe here. "I'll just go into the bathroom and pack my toiletries."
"Melissa, have you ever thought of going back to Juniper?" Wendy moistened her lips. "Maybe your sister canhelp you."
"I'll think about it. Right now Jessica's pretty busy with a new job."
"You're very close. If she knew, I think she'd put her project on hold."
"It's hard to put off. Don't worry, I'll be fine." She closed the bathroom door behind her and leaned against it, her heart pounding. Calm down. So she'd be alone tonight. Maybe it wouldn't happen. Maybe it would go away.
But it hadn't gone away in the last few weeks. It had started hazy and far away, barely discernible in the swirling darkness. But lately it kept coming closer. She knew she'd be able to see it clearly soon.
Oh, God, don't let her see it.
"Cassie's had another nightmare," Teresa Delgado said as she stood in the doorway of Jessica's bedroom. "A bad one."
"They're all bad." Jessica Riley rubbed her eyes before she sat up and reached for her robe. "You didn't leave her alone?"
"There are other people around here who know their jobs besides you. Rachel's with her." She made a face. "But Cassie might as well be alone. She's curled up in a ball with her face to the wall. I tried to comfort her, but, as usual, Cassie's acting as if she can't hear me. As deaf as a fence post."
"She's not deaf." Jessica passed her and started down the hall. "She's aware of everything around her. She's just rejecting it all. The only time she's vulnerable and lets anything in is when she's sleeping."
"Then maybe you should treat her when she's sleeping. Try hypnotism or something," Teresa said. "You're sure not doing very well when she's awake."
"Give me a break. I've had her for only a month. We're just beginning to know each other," Jessica said. But Teresa was right, there had been no obvious progress. The child had been caught in a prison of silence since the incident at Vasaro eight months before. Surely there should have been some breakthrough by now, she thought, then tried to dismiss her doubts. She was just tired. Jesus, a child lost in a catatonic state for eight months was nothing compared to other children she'd treated. But acceptance was difficult when her patient was a seven-year-old child who should be running and playing and living life to the fullest. "And it's better if she makes the first steps back herself. I don't want to force her."
"You're the doctor," Teresa said. "But if a lowly nurse can offer some advice, I'd—"
"Lowly?" Jessica smiled. "Where did that come from? You've been telling me what I should do since my first year of residency."
"You needed it. I'd been around for over thirty years by then and I had to set you straight. You were one of those hotshot doctors who never knew when to stop. You still don't. You could let us deal with the kid for one night and get eight hours' sleep."
"She's got to know I'm here for her." She shrugged. "And I wouldn't have been able to sleep much longer anyway. Her father's coming to see her. He said he'd be here by three a.m."
Teresa gave a low whistle. "The great man is paying us a visit?"
"No, Cassie's father is coming to see his daughter." Many people considered Jonathan Andreas one of the most popular presidents the United States had ever had, but Jessica didn't think of him in those terms. From the first time she had met him a month ago, she saw him only as a father who was terribly worried about his child. "And you should know that. You've seen him with her. He's just a man with a giant problem."
"So you put your life on hold and let him use your family home for a treatment center for his daughter. The damn place is an armed camp. You can't even take a walk without being shadowed by some Secret Service man."
"It was my idea. The President wanted her hidden from the media, and this place has a certain amount of privacy and is easy to secure. Cassie has to be protected. Look what happened at Vasaro."
"What if the same thing happens here?"
"It won't. The President assured me that the security is infallible."
"And you trust him?"
"Sure." Andreas inspired trust. "And besides, he loves his daughter. He's racked by guilt over Vasaro. He'd never risk another tragedy."
"You're very generous. I've noticed he's been pretty cool to you."
"That's okay. I've an idea he's sick and tired of dealing with psychiatrists. Besides, a family usually feels some resentment when they have to turn over their child to a stranger. We'll work it out." She nodded at Larry Fike, the Secret Service agent stationed outside Cassie's door. "Hi, Larry. Did they tell you the President is paying us a visit?"
He nodded. "Poor guy, not a good night."
"No." Though there were few good nights for Cassie Andreas. "But he has to come when he can get away without suspicion. We don't want reporters descending on us."
"Yep, then we'd all be having nightmares." He opened the door for her. "The little girl was screaming pretty badly. If it hadn't happened before, I'd have burst in there with gun drawn. I'll give you notice when the President reaches the gates."
"Do you need me?" Teresa asked.
She shook her head. "Go make some coffee for the President. He may need it." She nodded to the nurse sitting in the easy chair. "Thank you, Rachel. Anything I should know?"
"What you see is what you get." The young woman rose to her feet. "She hasn't moved a hair since Teresa left the room." She smiled at Cassie. "See you later, baby."
Jessica sat down and leaned back in the chair. She didn't speak for a moment, letting Cassie become accustomed to her presence. The child's color was good, but her face was pinched. Making sure she ate enough was already difficult; if she deteriorated even more, she would have to be fed intravenously. What a sad contrast this Cassie was to the pictures Jessica had seen of her before Vasaro. She'd been the darling of the White House with her long, shiny brown hair and luminous smile. Full of vitality and mischief. America's poster child . . .
When are you going to learn? she told herself. Don't get all choked up. Her esteemed colleagues never passed up a chance to tell her that a doctor's emotion never healed a patient.
Screw them. If you didn't let it blind and hog-tie you, love could do a hell of a lot.
"Pretty scary dream? Would you like to tell me about it?"
No answer. She hadn't expected one, but she always gave Cassie the opportunity. Someday a miracle could happen and Cassie might be tempted to come out of the darkness and answer one of her questions. "Was it about Vasaro?"
It was probably about Vasaro. Terror, death, and betrayal were the stuff of nightmares. But what element was the primary catalyst that had driven her away? The nurse she had loved and trusted and who had been prepared to hand her over to killers? The murder of the Secret Service guard and the nurse? It could be a combination of causes. "Your daddy is coming to visit you soon. Would you like me to brush your hair?"
"It doesn't matter. You look very pretty anyway. If you don't mind, I'll sit here until your daddy comes and we'll talk a little." She smiled. "Well, I'll talk. You seem to have given it up for a while. That's okay. You'll catch up when you decide to come back. My sister, Mellie, is a real chatterbox these days, and she was as closed as a clam for six years. I hope you won't see fit to stay away that long. Mellie's much happier now." Were Cassie's locked muscles relaxing a little? "This is Mellie's room you're in right now. She loves yellow and I had to talk her out of lemon and ease her into wheat-colored wallpaper. The brighter the better for Mellie. But it's a cheerful room, isn't it?"
No answer, but Jessica hoped that wherever she was, Cassie was listening. "Mellie's at Harvard now, studying to be a doctor like me. I miss her very much." She paused. "Like your mom and dad miss you. Mellie calls me every week and we talk and that helps. I bet your daddy would really like you to talk to him tonight."
"But he'll love to be with you whether you talk to him or not. He loves you. Do you remember how he used to play with you? Yes, I know you do. You remember everything, the bad and the good. And the bad doesn't hurt you where you are, does it? But it does hurt you when you go to sleep. If you'd come back to us, the dreams will stop, Cassie. It will take a little time, but they'll go away."
She could sense that Cassie was beginning to tense again.
"No one's going to make you come back until you want to do it. Someday you'll be ready and I'll be here to help you." She added softly, "I know the way, Cassie. Mellie and I traveled the same road. I wonder where you are. When Mellie came back, she said it was like being in a deep, dark forest with a canopy of trees overhead. But some other children who have gone away say they went to a nice cozy cave. Is that where you are?"
"Oh, well, you'll tell me when you come back. I'm a little tired, do you mind if I just rest a little until your daddy gets here?" Dear God, she was weary of questions. Answer me just once, sweetheart. She closed her eyes. "If you want to sleep, go ahead. I'm here. I'll wake you if the bad dreams come."
Gleaming emerald eyes, teeth bared to tear into him!
Edward bolted upright in bed, his heart pounding. He was drenched with sweat.
Only a dream.
How ridiculous to become so upset that he was actually dreaming about the statue. It had to be the humiliation he had experienced at Vasaro.
Not his fault. The plan had been perfect. If it hadn't been for Michael Travis, he would have had the child. How had the son of a bitch known about the raid? There had to have been a leak. He would find it and then he would find Michael Travis and blow the bastard's brains out.
Wide awake now, he decided to go to the room. Just the thought of it was bringing him peace.
He got up and made his way downstairs. The intricately carved door gleamed richly in the soft light. And once inside the room he would be able to relegate the small failure at Vasaro to the back of his mind, where it belonged. There was no question that he would persevere and get what he wanted soon.
Including the death of Michael Travis.
"Where the hell is Michael Travis?" Andreas demanded when Ben Danley got into the limousine. "It's been eight months. How long does it take the CIA to find one man?"
"We're close." Danley sank down in the seat across from Andreas. "We've trailed him to Amsterdam. You don't understand, Mr. President. He's been mixing with the criminal underground since he was born. His father was a thief and a smuggler and he was brought up all over Europe and Asia. He has contacts that—"
"So you've told me." And Andreas didn't want to hear it again. He wanted Travis and no excuses.
"I'm only trying to explain that he moves in circles that leave few tracks. We expect to locate him within two days." He paused. "You haven't told us what to do when we do find him, sir."
Andreas turned to look at him.
"Do you wish him to have . . . an accident, Mr. President?"
Andreas smiled sardonically. "Why, Danley, you know the CIA no longer does sanctions. You've cleaned up your image."
"I didn't say we'd do it," Danley said. "I merely asked if that was your wish."
"It's a natural question. If Travis is the man behind Vasaro, I can see why—"
"Travis wasn't behind it. I don't want him hurt," Andreas interrupted. "And you don't know jack about what happened at Vasaro."
"Your pardon, sir, but naturally Keller at the Secret Service shared his files with us since the attempt on your life was made outside the U.S."
"It wasn't Travis."
"Then why have we spent eight months searching for him?"
"Because I told you to." He looked out the window at the darkness. "And I wanted you to have a damn good reason to find him. What did Keller tell you?"
"That there was an attempt on your life and the nurse and six men had been killed and three wounded. Fortunately, you and the First Lady had gone to Paris."
"Fortunately?" His tone was biting. "Do you realize that my daughter hasn't spoken a word since that night? And that my wife was on the verge of a nervous breakdown after six months of trying to cope with a child who looked at her as if she were a stranger?"
From the Audio edition.