"The Killing Files" Nikki Owen

The Killing Files (The Project #2)Nikki Owen
I am absolutely delighted to be part of the "Killing Files Blog Tour" and today it is my turn to host Nikki Owen's tour with a review of the book!

 No matter how fast you run, the past always catches up with you
Dr Maria Martinez is out of prison and on the run.
Her mission? To get back to the safety of her family.
Little does she know that this might be the most dangerous place of all…

This is the second book in "The Project Trilogy" by Nikki Owen. Although it is possible to read this as a stand alone novel, it's probably much better to read part one, "The Spider in the Corner of the Room" first.

The opening of this novel is absolutely gripping:

I don't know how I got here. I don't know how I'm going to escape. A room. A cell? Prison confinement again? But I was found innocent, I am free......I have not killed anyone....
....It's as if my memory has been erased. As if who I am doesn't really exist. We are all in danger now, all of us. There is only one way it will end. Someone will die.

I was hooked! I'd promised myself I would only read the first few pages before bed - but I couldn't put it down! Immediately we are thrown into a tense and sinister situation. We are reunited with Dr Mary Martinez, the protagonist from part one, and reminded that the last book ended with her being on trial for murder. In this book, Martinez finds herself still being chased by "The Project" and is desperate to find out why and how she became part of this secret and powerful organisation that flies under the radar of everyone including the government. Opening with her in a dark, unknown, confined and imprisoned place where yet again, she has no clear memory of exactly what has happened to her, is a compelling way to kick off another roller coaster of an adventure. Owen's first lines reminded me that this is a writer who will drag you along an action packed, fast and exciting adventure. Short chapters and short sentences propel you along deeper and deeper into the mystery behind Martinez and "The Project".

The narrative then abandons Martinez in her "undisclosed place of confinement" and the next section is headed "34 hours and 59 minutes to confinement." The novel then alternates between the present moment of Martinez's imprisonment (or capture) and the count down from 34 hours as to how this happened. With the clock ticking down, the reader is automatically on edge. We know Maria is under threat despite her repetition of "I am Maria Martinez. I am 33 years old. I am innocent of murder. I am free." We suspect "The Project" is going to catch up with her and this automatically creates a sense of pressure and panic for her safety. Owen then intensifies this panic with a fast paced storyline that literally jumps of the pages.

Martinez continues to be an original and engaging character. She has a high IQ, a photographic memory, dextrous skills and fast technical assimilation. She is subject 375 from a covert group led by M15 to fight terrorism. She is the only one on whom "the conditioning appears to be working." In the short lived safety of the spanish hills where she thought she could escape the clutches of those who seek to control her, she is haunted by graphic flash backs to her childhood which offer her confused snap shots about how she became part of "The Project". She realises that she has been controlled by a drug that induces memory loss. She knows that she has been "programmed" with information that she will be forced to recall at a later stage when required by "The Project". She was a "test child", surrounded by "handlers" that would observe her and monitor her closely while she unsuspectingly went about her "normal" life.

Marinez also has Asperges. She keeps a notebook where she writes everything down: "I need my notebook to write it all down, record it so I can track it and try to make sense of what is hidden in my head." She is dependent on algorithms, codes, scores of data, times and geolocations. In this second book, Owen continues to develop a convincing, intriguing and complex character and the added detail about the way her mind works is fascinating. She has presented a character with Asperges with deft skill and conviction. It adds a deeper dimension to the novel and another layer of intrigue. Female protagonists are very popular at the moment, particularly characters like the leads in "The Bridge", "Marcella" and "The Killing" who suffer some kind of emotional awkwardness - their methods and behaviour unconventional but their ability to solve a crime completely faultless. This book is not detective fiction, but it is great to read about a female character with the intelligence, courage and bravery to equal and possibly surpass any male contemporary. Writing in the voice of Martinez exaggerates the confusion, the tension and the puzzle; the reader is as involved in Martinez's search for the truth as she is herself. It also gives her a edge of vulnerability and empathy. When she has to leave her villa she reflects that "I have been happy here. No social rules to follow, no chit chat to make, no confusing body signals to be unable to read." She does not want our pity, but we sympathise with her as she tries to survive in a world to which not only is she already struggling to understand and operate within, but also piece together her past and try to figure out why it is that she knows and can do the things she does.

My eyelids vibrate, my brain attempts to calibrate a conniption, find an answer to what is happening to me, but the codes, numbers, solutions that instinctively inhabit my head are all jumbled up, as if I have been shaken like some unwanted toy then discarded on the ground and kicked under a bed to gather dust and wither.

There are some lighter moments provided by Martinez, for example her lack of understanding about some of the phrases people use like "my legs are killing me," and "hold your horses". She is referred to as the "human google" and with these sorts of asides, Owen makes her more human and realistic.

Owen writes with skill, pace and plenty of dynamic images and detail. I loved the moment that Martinez has to flee from her villa. It was like watching one of the best action adventure films and the growing danger of the whole inescapable conspiracy is frightening. The sense of being chased, hunted and unable to escape from something so much bigger and powerful than you is palpable and very dramatic. I liked the way she described the flashes of memory and how moments are revealed to her like a "cloak slipping down from her memory block". The significance of the journal is clever and the way Martinez processes all her data is also very clever. Owen's writing is full of effective and well chosen detail making it incredibly easy to visualise and the reader is able to keep up with the plot despite its complexity. The themes of betrayal and revelation are well managed and delivered at the most crucial moments generating a real sense of climax.

To be honest, this probably isn't the sort of book I would normally read - although it is definitely the sort of thing I watch as a film or a TV series - but with a lead female character, I found that I did enjoy it and did engage with the plight of the protagonist. I think her highly intelligent brain mixed with her emotional and social clumsiness create a new kind of heroine who can offer more than the slightly predictable and cliched male hero who features in most of the movies about spies and government operations.

If you like "The Bourne Identity" you will love this book. If you like any of the nordic noir series, you will love this. If you are looking for something a bit different -that mixes adventure, conspiracy, murder and secret pasts - then this is the next book for you!

Thank you so much to Mira Books and Nikki Owen for letting me be part of this Blog Tour. For more details about the tour and dates please see the banner below.

Author bio:
Nikki Owen is an award-winning freelance writer and columnist currently based in Gloucestershire.
Previously, Nikki was a marketing consultant and University teaching fellow before turning to writing full time. As part of her degree, she studied at the acclaimed University of Salamanca – the same city where her protagonist of the Project trilogy, Dr Maria Martinez, hails from.
Social info:
Author website: www.nikkiowenauthor.com
Twitter: @NikkiWriter   @Mira_BooksUK   #TheKillingFiles
Amazon link: http://amzn.to/20Fwhdc

My thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Publishers for the advanced copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.

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