The Ultimatum

Written by Karen Robards — British crime fans may remember the TV series Hustle, which ran from 2004 to 2012 and attracted quite an audience. It followed the antics of a group of high-end con artists and starred, among others, the fabulous Robert Vaughan. Their ‘marks’ were all people who deserved to come down a peg or two, and the cons were executed in some mighty devious ways.

The synopsis for this book might have you craving something similar. Bianca St Ives is a beautiful, talented and clever thief, a mistress of disguise and a manipulator par excellence. We meet her as she and her father, Richard, are about to take $200 million from the vaults of a Bahrain prince, money the prince got by very dubious means. The plan has been meticulously plotted, but everything begins to fall apart when Bianca discovers the vault is empty.

A crazy, Mission: Impossible style chase ensues, concluding in a literally explosive moment where Richard is blown to bits. A bereft Bianca returns to Savannah, Georgia to take up the reins of the security business which serves as a front for their money laundering. Then an email arrives into one of her father’s special, encrypted accounts. The client wants Richard to retrieve a stolen prototype weapons defence system and as his daughter, Bianca feels duty-bound to take on the job.

The book begins with a murder. A little girl hides inside a metal cabinet and can only listen in horror as her mother is shot to death. The killer tries, and fails to find little Beth, and then there’s an enormous explosion… Robards drip feeds weeny hints about the identity of that little girl as the tale unfolds, but leaves a huge, ridiculously implausible, plot reveal to near the end.

Implausible is a word I found myself considering often as I read The Ultimatum. It reads like a movie script. Everyone bar computer geek Doc is handsome/beautiful, the settings are gorgeous and the action teeters on the edge of cartoonish. The aforementioned Doc is a rough diamond in a forest of rhinestone. He’s scruffy, prone to panicking and an excellent hacker. In contrast, Bianca is a highly trained and experienced operative with a veritable arsenal of gadgets at her disposal (most of them secreted in her suspender belt). She’s like a cross between 007 and the Milk Tray man – Jane Bon Bon perhaps?

A lot of the twists are telegraphed well before they’re executed, while the characters are painted with a broad brush, giving little for the reader to grab onto, and dialogue is filled with cliches. Bianca herself is a tad annoying – which doesn’t bode well as this is the first of a series and the scene is set for more shenanigans to come.

Karen Robards is a regular on the New York Times bestsellers list. She’s written more than 40 romantic thrillers and has a huge fan base. The Ultimatum served as my introduction to her writing and I was disappointed. There’s plenty of style here but precious little substance in a novel that will serve well at the poolside but is unlikely to stay long in the memory.

For a con artist with chutzpah, try The Liar. Or, there’s always that classic The Grifters by Jim Thompson. 

Hodder & Stoughton
Print/Kindle/iBook
£7.99

CFL Rating: 2 Stars

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