Book Review: The Ultimatum by Karen Robards

Book Review: The Ultimatum by Karen Robards

Rating: 2.3/10

Some spoilers ahead

Recently, I finished the suspenseful crime thriller The Ultimatum by Karen Robards, a New York Times best-selling author. Crime thrillers are typically fast-paced with high-speed chases, shootouts, and tense confrontations. Unfortunately, The Ultimatum falls short in these areas.


The first few chapters of the book contain exactly the sort of suspense and speed one would expect from a thriller. The novel starts off with a flashback of Bianca St. Ives, the protagonist, when she was eight and living under the name Beth McAlister. A hitman arrives at her house, kills her mother, then burns the house down. Bianca escaped from the fire and her father, a notorious international thief, also survived. With only her father, Richard, left, Bianca learns the trades of being a thief including lockpicking, planning, and how to use a gun.


The story then cuts to twenty-two years later when Bianca, Richard, and a carefully assembled team, sneak their way into a party for a foreign prince and plan to steal $200 million from the prince’s vault. Unfortunately, Bianca realizes that the money was moved and she and the others have to improvise their getaway plan.


To make matters worse, her father’s nemesis, an Interpol agent named Laurent Durand, is also at the party. While Bianca, her father and their crew flee, Durand pursues them with a squad of police cars.  


Richard lures the officers away and is subsequently killed in an explosion the Interpol officers set off. Bianca then flees back to America and continues running her business, a multimillion security firm called Guardian Consulting, and is haunted by her father’s death. She later receives an email to her father from a client interested in obtaining a prototype project from a man in San Francisco. The client bribes her using her father’s second wife and daughter as ransom and Bianca must use her ingenuity and all of her skills as a thief to steal the prototype, rescue her father’s other family, and learn the truth about her father.


As mentioned before, the first few chapters were pretty suspenseful. Robards sets up an interesting scenario where Bianca’s skills talents a thief are put on full display for the reader.  While there are elements for a compelling story, it all goes downhill from Chapter 5.  


Unfortunately, the pacing in the novel slows down to what feels like a snail’s pace as the author painstakingly details Bianca’s escape and the chase sequence with Durand and his men.  This whole scene with the heist lasts one hundred pages in a three-hundred-thirty page novel.   


Robards also spends an unnecessarily large portion of the book detailing Bianca and her business in Savannah, Georgia and her interactions between her and her employees. The characters introduced in this part of the book served no real part in the story other than to waste time that could have been spent progressing the plot forward.


The rest of the story itself follows this dull and slow pace. The “action” sequences where Bianca is trying to obtain the prototype are pretty lackluster and uninspired and feel like scenes that belong in a low-rate James Bond ripoff. This type of pacing and lackluster action and writing would have been fine if it were the author’s first book but Robards has already written fifty other novels and has won six Silver Pen Awards for her writing.  


Bianca’s motivations also come across as strange. When her father’s other wife and daughter, Margery and Maron, are introduced, Bianca indicates that she despises them because Maron gets the life that she’s always wanted to have with her father since Bianca rarely ever sees Richard except during heists. However, Bianca sets out to rescue Margery and Maron since she did not want to see them die. Margery and Maron themselves were very flat characters as well with almost no personality or real purpose in the story except to lure Bianca’s father into the enemy’s hands.


There’s also a romance subplot with Bianca and a secret agent she encounters a few times throughout the story that goes nowhere and leads to some awkward and cringeworthy situations and dialogue. The ending of the book, while interesting conceptually, is very underwhelming.  While the reader does learn the truth about who Richard really is, which is admittedly interesting for the lackluster ending, there’s also a huge reveal about Bianca that sounds like something straight out of a cliche sci-fi novel.  


What’s most disappointing is that you don’t even learn exactly what sort of object the prototype was considering that it was such an important part of the novel since it was the thing Bianca was trying to steal in order to rescue Margery and Maron.


However, the one good thing about the story overall was Bianca St. Ives as a character.  She had a really well-developed personality and came across as a strong and cunning woman who doesn’t care what others think and lives life her own way as a thief and a successful business owner. Her personality, as well as the vast skill set she has, kept me interested in the story to a certain degree and she was probably the only reason that I bothered to finish the book in the first place.


In all, The Ultimatum was a bland and very underwhelming novel with pacing slower than a glacial movement, boring and somewhat cliched characters, uninteresting action, and a head-scratching ending.  The most baffling part about this book is that it’s supposedly the first book in a new series by the author and one can only guess that the story will only become more convoluted and dull based on the reveals at the end of this book.  


If given the ultimatum to either drink a whole carton of orange juice after brushing my teeth or read The Ultimatum, you should choose the orange juice in a heartbeat.  It’s the less painful choice.