By Ekta R. Garg, Reviewer

May 5, 2022

Storm Rising by Chris Hauty

Release date: May 3, 2022

Genre: Political thriller

Rated: Bordering on Bookmarking it! / 3.5 stars

A secret organization sends its best operative to investigate another secret organization, but the operative has an ulterior motive for taking on the job. Not long before the book begins, she discovers her father’s dead body. That would be traumatizing enough for anyone, but for our plucky secret agent this discovery is worse.

She was under the impression her father had died years earlier while on military tour in Iraq. What is he doing in the States? And why has he only died just now?

As she follows clues from Washington to Texas, she learns that her father may be more involved with the secret organization she’s investigating than she knew before. The closer she gets to the truth of what’s going on, the more reluctant she becomes to find out what the connection is. She’s also got some bad guys on her tail, so she has to deal with them, and her love life is starting to confuse her.

Sounds like the premise for a great book, right? What makes it even better is the protagonist, deep state operative Hayley Chill. Hayley is what most of us women wish we could be if we were secret agents. She’s poised and fit; she can take out a group of guys who underestimate her while still remaining unfailingly polite. She’s also quite the looker.

James Bond, you have definitely met your match.

I read an ARC of the first book in the Hayley Chill series two years ago. Deep State read like a movie and with good reason. Author Chris Hauty has worked in Hollywood for years, and he has a deft hand at balancing information with plot. Surprisingly in this third book of the Hayley Chill series, he also gives Hayley a softer side.

In all honesty, I was a little torn about this part of the story. So many books/movies/TV shows don’t get the balance right when they set out to portray a strong woman who is a skilled fighter, incredibly intelligent, and the key figure in covert operations. Entertainment outlets either make these women vulnerable at all the wrong times or they make them vengeful to the point of becoming robots with the “Rage” button pressed all the way in or they make them depend on other people (read: men) to solve their problems at the height of the climax.

Hayley Chill says and does none of these things. She’s self-sufficient; although she’s not outside the realm of needing human contact and relationships, she doesn’t seek them out on a regular basis. For the kind of work she does—a deep state operative working for an ultra secret organization—remaining solitary is an asset.

She’s also aware of the fact that men find her attractive, and she doesn’t hesitate to use it to her advantage when the situation calls for it. She doesn’t flaunt herself or throw herself at men, though. In a weird throwback to old movies, all she needs to do is smile or let a look linger for a few extra minutes and the job is done. The guy is hooked, and he doesn’t see the punch coming.

Technology may have taken our society to heights unimagined 20 years ago, but human nature really doesn’t ever change.

In the first two books, Hayley is calm, cool, and collected. She receives assignments and completes them. When complications arise, she handles them and keeps moving forward. Nothing comes in the way of her achieving her goal, whether that means fighting her way out of a corner or using stealth and courage where others might fall back.

Here, though, Hayley is mostly following a personal agenda. She thought her dad died years ago when, in fact, he’d taken on the identity of a fellow serviceman and lived not far from her while working under this assumed name. Now that he’s actually dead, she has to find out why he’s been murdered. Given that this is a Hollywood-style thriller (and that Chris Hauty really understands his genre to a T,) the reason for her dad’s death is also tied to the new mission she undertakes: to stop a bunch of white supremacists.

Unlike previous books, though, here we see Hayley waver in pursuit of that goal. Never too much; she doesn’t go sideways. But there are moments of hesitation; of questioning. For Hayley, that’s the equivalent of running away to the Caribbean.

As I said, I’m torn about this new development in her character. I “met” Hayley Chill as the confident young woman who is clear-eyed on every decision. Seeing her hang back for 10 or 15 seconds…I don’t know. It made her more human.

I love that we can relate to her in those quiet moments where she’s not sure whether she should keep going, but…I loved the old Hayley too. The one who takes no prisoners, who goes in so laser-focused on her target that you’d swear you could see red lines beaming from her eyes. Here we still get that Hayley but also a new version of her.

Part of the charm of Chris Hauty’s books is that he melds Hollywood charisma and dream spinning with a 21st-century heroine who is tech savvy, not going to take any garbage from anyone, and can, in a cool minute, make anyone who underestimates her very, very sorry. We wish we could be like Hayley. She carries herself with poise and ease that every woman wants at a hundred percent every day. Many of us reach it on some days; Hayley seems to be like that all the time.

Except in this book. As a reviewer and reader, it is exciting to see Hayley grow as a character. I’m glad Chris Hauty isn’t running with the same old routine for this third novel. He’s given Hayley depth, which is crucial for a series like this to succeed.

A small part of me misses the old Hayley, though. The one who can “do it all” without batting an eye. She still does it all, but occasionally she stops in this book to check herself.

It’ll be interesting to see where she goes and what she does next. Chris Hauty mentioned on Twitter that there will most likely be another Hayley Chill book. Maybe the measure of who she is as a character will be more readily weighed in the fourth novel.

Uncertain or not, one thing’s for sure: Hayley Chill is just as cool (if not even cooler) than James Bond. And she doesn’t need a number to identify her.