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Breaking Loose
by Tara Janzen
(Bantam Dell, $7.99, R) ISBN 978-0-440-24470-7
**
Breaking Loose is a fast-paced, frantic action story with a whole lot of characters and not a lot of storytelling.

Art dealer and sometime Special Defense Forces agent Suzi Toussi has been recruited for what seems like a routine mission.  The Memphis Sphinx, which is an ancient artifact purported to have mythical, eternal powers has slipped from the SDFs grasp and Suzi has been asked to go to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay to retrieve it.  Ciudad del Este is a hellhole at the best of times, full of crime and various levels of bad guys.  Luckily, Suzi’s mission has a short timeline and a big reward - the SDF will help Suzi rescue another girl from a life of forced prostitution.  Suzi has been rescuing women to give her life purpose ever since her own little girl was accidentally shot and killed, leaving her with very little reason left to continue on.

Dax Killian was a Special Forces agent, a loner who has now put himself out for hire to some pretty dangerous men.  The dangerous man he’s currently employed by, German Erich Warner, has some pretty important information on a terrorist cell planning an attack in Texas.  Erich will give the info to Dax, but only if he retrieves the Memphis Sphinx, as Erich has his eye on the immortality it can supposedly bestow.

Suzi and Dax met once six months earlier at a bar, and Dax has been fantasizing about her ever since.  When Dax spots Suzi with some seedy characters in Ciudad del Este, he immediately recognizes her, and the serious danger she’s put herself in. Dax put himself in charge - of the mission, of Suzi, and the hunt for the Sphinx.  Unfortunately for Dax, Suzi doesn’t take orders well and she won’t give up the details of who she’s working for and why.  There are a lot of extra players in this game, some that Suzi and Dax know, some that they don’t, and everyone is looking for the same thing while trying to eliminate the competition.  Suzi and Dax are caught in the middle of this cast, people are dying everywhere and there’s not a lot of reliable info to follow.  Suddenly the hunt is on, and Suzi and Dax will only get as far as their limited trust can take them.

Breaking Loose is definitely an action story-complete with a lot of the typical hallmarks - a tough hero, a pile of bad guys and a lot of dramatic twists in the plot.

While Dax is an intriguing hero, a real loner who’s honest and sexy, he remains pretty flat and two-dimensional throughout the story.  He handles every situation with the same cool dexterity, without showing a lot of emotion or humanity.

  Suzi comes off as a beautiful, stand-offish, cold lady who doesn’t realize that she’s gotten in way over her head.  Her reaction to Dax is half attraction and half frustrated fear of him.  It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and her numerous fight-and-flight attempts are supposed to serve as their courtship period, I suppose.

One thing that Janzen does really well is write a truly scary bad guy. Erich Warner and his lady Shoko are two very terrifying examples.  There is also a terrific cast of background bad guys, all different personalities and objectives.

While Breaking Loose could have been a pretty good action story based on its plot, the multitude of events, and people in the story overwhelm it and the lack of relationship between the characters really seal its fate as a two heart read.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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