Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: What Doesn't Kill You by Iris Johansen

What Doesn't Kill You
Author: Iris Johansen
Publication: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (April 17, 2012)

Description: Catherine Ling was abandoned on the streets of Hong Kong at age four.  Schooled in the art of survival, she traded in the only commodity she had: information.  As a teenager, she came under the tutelage of a mysterious man known only as Hu Chang—a skilled assassin and master poisoner.  As a young woman, she was recruited by the CIA and now, she is known as one of their most effective operatives.  Having lived life in the shadows, Catherine is aware of the wobbly moral compass of her existence and even more aware of just how expendable she is to those she deals with. When her old friend Hu Chang creates something so deadly, and completely untraceable, the chase is on to be the first to get it.  With rogue operative John Gallo also on the hunt, Catherine finds herself pitted against a group so villainous and a man so evil that she may not survive the quest to protect those she cares about.  Iris Johansen is at her page-turning best in this novel that takes you from the corridors of Langley to the alleyways of Hong Kong, and the darkest places of the human soul.

My Thoughts: Once I got used to the characters in this one I couldn't put the book down. What took me a while was that the main characters - Catherine Ling and Hu Chang - both had sort of strange reactions. I almost had a feeling that they were autistic because of the lack of emotion. Catherine had been on her own in Hong Kong since she was a young child. Her mother was a prostitute who died when Catherine was only four. Another prostitute took her in but there didn't seem to be any emotional attachment. Catherine learned to survive on the shady side of Hong Kong by selling information to anyone who would pay her.

When she is fourteen she meets Hu Chang who is an apothecary and doctor of Chinese medicine who is clearly a genius but who also has an odd way of thinking. He determines that the two of them will be friends and he guides her to work with the CIA. He has some interesting morals as he creates and sells poisons among other sorts of potions.

Years pass, Catherine joins the CIA, marries, has a child who is kidnapped by a monster when he is two, and has now recovered her eleven year old son. Her son Luke is another character who is extremely bright but has no concept of emotions or attachment. Catherine is determined to protect him and is gradually forging a relationship with him. She gets a call from her CIA boss to tell her that he needs her in Hong Kong again because Hu Chang has created a potion that has made him the target of an extreme villain named Nardik who will do anything to get the potion from Hu Chang.

Catherine goes to protect her friend and asks her CIA boss to find someone who knows Mardik. Enter Gallo. Gallo and Catherine have met before and both been attracted to each other. Catherine isn't going to let any possible emotion sidetrack her from her quest and Gallo has his work cut out for him to try to find a place to fit into her life.

The most intriguing character in this one is Hu Chang. He is the one who precipitates the actions through his various manipulations. Catherine is often torn between wanting to kill him herself and wanting to protect him. One thing is certain though, Hu Chang always has what he sees as Catherine's best interests in mind as he manipulates those around him. While she loves him, Catherine doesn't agree with many of his choices.

There was lots of tension in this one and lots of suspense as Catherine, Gallo, and Hu Chang have to find out who Mardik's intended victim is and to save him. There are chase scenes, kidnapping, fires and other exciting events in this one.

I found this one a satisfying way to spend a few hours. It does make me want to look for the other books in which Catherine appears and see her again now that I know her better.

Favorite Quote:
Gallo was walking toward them across the veranda.

The light from the three tiers of candles on the dozen outdoor chandeliers was playing over his dark hair and throwing his cheekbones in shadow. His lips were open slightly, and his teeth were white against his olive skin. He looked totally male, totally sensual.

She felt a sudden tightness in her chest just looking at him.
I bought this one. You can get your copy here.  


  1. This book does sound good. I saw your post on the first sentence and was intrigued. Romantic suspense is not usually my type of thing, although I like other types of mysteries. However, lately I have found myself surprised by new books I try. I may try this series.

  2. Hi Kathy,

    I left a comment on your book beginnings post about this book, but although I am really keen to read it, I couldn't quite work out the synergie between this and the first book in the series 'Chasing The Night'. Your great review has tied the two together nicely, although it does look as though I might need to read the books in order to get the true flavour of the characters.

    This book has met with some quite mixed reviews and has received little if any recognition here in the UK, so I am really eager to change that.

    I see that Iris Johansen has two more books scheduled for release this year, however neither of them are additions to this series, so I guess that you might have to wait a little longer to see what happens to Catherine next.

    Nice review and post, thanks


  3. I love Iris Johansen! I'm excited to read about her new character. I've so got to get caught up with all the books she has out now, especially if there are two more coming.


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