Target on Our Backs is the final installment in the Monster series by J.M. Darhower. This crime drama ends the series with a bang!
[MAJOR Spoilers; Mature Audiences]
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
“I know he’s not a good man,” I say quietly, “but he’s not a bad one, either.”
This is book three in the Monster series by J.M. Darhower (book 1 = Monster in His Eyes, book 2 = Torture to Her Soul). You’ll definitely need to read the first two books to understand what’s going on. We last saw Naz and Karissa after they were both recovering from her near death experience after being shot by the boss, Raymond Angelo. Naz kills Ray, and we get the sense that things are going to be okay.
That’s far from true, though, because Target on Our Backs picks up a year later. Karissa is still attending NYU but doesn’t really like it anymore. Naz has gone clean for the most part. He hasn’t killed a man since Ray, and he stands by his word and tries to be different for Karissa.
They even speak with his father somewhat regularly.
Bad things begin to happen, though. Ray’s old crew starts getting picked off one-by-one, and Naz is starting to wonder when his number will be up. He won’t let that happen, so he dives back into the world he was born for to find out who’s behind the hits before he winds up dead.
Okay, so I love J.M.’s books. I firmly believe if you love drama and romance, you should read her entire library. That being said, Target on Our Backs fell a little flat for me. A major issue was the characterizations. For a good sixty percent of the story, they were so different from the previous books.
Naz wasn’t Naz, and his personality is what made the books.
“I don’t even know who you are anymore.”
“I’m the same man I always was,” he says, standing up. “Just a little less preoccupied with murder.”
I understood that he wanted to be different for Karissa, but we get dropped into their relationship a year later after she was shot, so we don’t see that progression. They’re married, and Naz doesn’t insist on her safety like he used to. He justifies it by saying he knows she’s safe and prefers her taking a car service instead of cabs, but the Naz that was so protective of her isn’t really around anymore.
Karissa isn’t sure how she feels about it. On one hand, she likes the freedom, but on the other, it doesn’t feel right.
“A leopard doesn’t change its spots.”
Her father-in-law tells her that, and she tells him that Naz has changed, but has he really or is he just masking it?
The Karissa we knew before is different, too. She still loves Naz, and she’s willing to look past what brought them together to have a good future, but she’s so indecisive. She spent her life getting ready to attend NYU, but then she starts skipping classes. Finally, Karissa decides to drop out altogether because it doesn’t feel right to her anymore.
On top of that, she’s tired, irritable, and always hungry with different cravings. It’s quite obvious that she’s pregnant early on, but she doesn’t even stop to think that could be an option. In fact, we don’t get a lot about her thoughts on her pregnancy besides she doesn’t know how to tell Naz so she ends up blurting it out. After she tells him, she decides they need to leave New York and start fresh somewhere new.
Then there’s how she’s not nearly as observant. She gets in the same cab with the same driver three times without even mentioning it to Naz. When the cab starts driving away from her destination, instead of texting Naz or calling him covertly, she does nothing. I want to know what happened in the last year to turn them into such sitting ducks.
The whole story, Naz agrees to do whatever she wants. He only wants her to be happy. He does look into who has been killing Ray’s guys and even gets a call to meet with the four remaining heads of the families in New York.
He turns down a job for them, but asks them about the guy who seems to be taking over Angelo territory. They don’t give him a straight answer, but when Naz says the name he’s heard on the streets, they tell him that “Scar” seems to be an up-and-comer from the deep south, who means business.
Over the course of the story, we find out that “Scar” is actually Lorenzo Gambini (Accardi), and that Naz made him into the guy he is today. Naz murdered Lorenzo’s stepfather after finding out he was beating him and was responsible for the terrible scar across his face.
Karissa’s friend, Melody, also makes brief appearances throughout. She has a new boyfriend named Leo who is a total fox, but it turns out that he’s Lorenzo’s brother and him meeting Melody and her knowing Karissa is a complete coincidence.
In the end, Naz decides that the only way he can make sure they’re safe is by killing all the bosses and letting Lorenzo take the lead. This is only after Karissa has been kidnapped twice and one of those ended up with her almost being burned alive.
She says retaliation is a choice, and maybe she’s right. Maybe it is a choice. But maybe I want to choose retaliation.
The whole story feels like it’s building for Naz’s death.
I don’t fear death. I’ve already died too many times before. I’m a cat with nine lives and I’m already on number twelve. I’m living on borrowed time. When death wants me, it’ll take me.
But it’s almost like J.M. decided not to go through with it. The end wraps up so nicely that I was left wondering what happened. They end up living on a beach with a baby and the dog that used to be her mother’s and everything is completely picturesque. It felt so out of tone with the story.
I think J.M.’s a fantastic storyteller, and I’ll read whatever she puts out there. Naz and Karissa’s chemisty is still off the charts, and her pace for writing action scenes is completely on point. She leaves you tense, waiting to see what will happen next and who is who in the game. Overall, I’m glad that Karissa and Naz got their HEA. It’s well-deserved, but somewhat too clean.
What’s coming next for J.M.? I’m pretty sure that By Any Other Name has a sequel coming and this has me ridiculously excited!
Many thanks to the author for the advanced review copy!