Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
The British Army let her go. Big mistake.

Charlie didn’t really care who shot dead her ex-army comrade during a bodyguard training course in Germany. But when old flame Sean Meyer asks her to go undercover at the elite school and find out what happened, she just can’t refuse.

Keeping her nerve isn’t easy as events bring back fears and memories she’s doing her damndest to overcome. And trying to blend in by playing down her abilities proves a real challenge.

She expected training to be tough, but will she graduate from this school of hard knocks alive?

364 pages, Kindle Edition

First published March 27, 2003

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Zoë Sharp

75 books458 followers
Zoë Sharp spent most of her formative years living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. She opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen. She became a freelance photojournalist in 1988 and started writing her Charlie Fox crime thriller series after receiving death-threats in the course of her work.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
377 (45%)
4 stars
324 (38%)
3 stars
122 (14%)
2 stars
8 (<1%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews
Profile Image for Skip.
3,351 reviews414 followers
January 8, 2021
Charlie Fox is asked to go undercover at a bodyguard school in Germany by her ex-lover Sean Meyer to discover the suspicious death of a former Special Forces colleague. Charlie still has strong feelings for Sean, but cannot bring herself to tell him that she was raped by four other SF colleagues, with the dead one having saved her life, but balking at telling the truth during the investigation. Bodyguard boot camp is awful, and instructors start getting killed to cover up a kidnapping and a reprisal. Good taught thriller, with Charlie's usual ass-kicking, in-your-face persona.
Profile Image for RachelW (BamaGal).
746 reviews68 followers
August 5, 2018
Charlie is sent to a military style bodyguard school in Germany to investigate a murder, where she revisits some bad memories of her days in the army. The first quarter of the book is a tad mundane, as it shows the ins-and-outs of the daily routine of the camp. After that, the the investigation picks up, and the last part especially is riveting reading.

Looking forward to Charlie's new career as an international bodyguard. I hope there comes to be a solid group of secondary characters. I really like Charlie, but when she has no one to react off of she tends to come off as cold and aloof.
Profile Image for The Cats’ Mother.
2,130 reviews139 followers
October 21, 2012
Third in the Charlie Fox series, this one has her enrolling at a bodyguard training school in Germany as she goes undercover to find out what happened to a former army colleague, as a favour to Sean. The plot was a bit confusing as it rattled along but it all got sorted out by the end. I like that each of the books so far has had a completely different setting and range of characters, and that Charlie's personality is evolving with her experiences.
Profile Image for Carolien.
811 reviews143 followers
May 23, 2018
Charlie Fox is one of my favourite female protagonists - competent, cynical and with a wicked sense of humour. Zoe Sharp extends the arc of the series in this book and manages to give the reader a crash course in the basics of body guarding and personal protection which the reader will require in the next instalment. She does so with a finely layered plot, interesting characters and some great humour. I really enjoy this series.
Profile Image for Sid Nuncius.
1,128 reviews106 followers
April 9, 2022
Hard Knocks is a whole lot of action-packed fun. It’s the third in Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox series; it helps to have read the first two in order to understand some of Charlie’s relationships, but it works fine as a stand-alone.

Charlie, ex-army Special Forces is damaged but very much alive. She is reluctantly roped in to finding out how an ex-colleague came to be shot while instructing on a Close Protection course in Germany. Enrolling as a pupil, she begins to uncover all sorts of complex dodgy dealing, while needing all her physical fitness, ingenuity and deadly skills to survive.

It’s great stuff. Books on similar themes are available by the truck load, of course, but Charlie is a very engaging protagonist, having a woman in the action hero role makes this quite special and, most importantly, Zoe Sharp writes extremely well. Her characters are believable, she deals with the sexism very well and she spins a very exciting, involving yarn.

This may not be great literature, but it’s a great read. Warmly recommended.
Profile Image for Julia Buckley.
Author 26 books720 followers
January 13, 2023
I am really enjoying this series and will be jumping into book four.
Profile Image for Seeley James.
Author 27 books302 followers
January 3, 2013
Hard Knocks by Zoë Sharp - $3.99 E

The phrase “cozy mystery” brings the image of my Aunt Mabel sipping tea by the fire on a rainy day while reading a mystery featuring a heroine of her age and gentleness. As you might have already guessed—I’ve never read a cozy mystery.*

Zoë Sharp provides something a good deal more to my liking: the cozy thriller. NOT about, or for, tea-sipping aunties. But more about Cozy Thrillers later. Hard Knocks is the third in the Charlie Fox series and Ms. Sharp’s great writing just keeps getting better. For openers, here’s the opener:

It rained on the day of Kirk Salter’s funeral. Hard cold rain, close to sleet. Driven down off the moors by a frenzied wind, it rampaged through the gravestones of the bleak little Yorkshire churchyard and buffeted the sparse group of mourners clustered round the open grave.

My regular readers will recall how much I liked Riot Act because of the humor, the thrills, and the exceptionally well portrayed parental relationship. Hard Knocks starts out with our heroine suffering through the happy holidays with her folks. Her explanation for why she puts up with them:

Still, it’s amazing what the prospect of being homeless at Christmas does to your pride.

Ah yes, seems her apartment was burned to a crisp. How did that happen? Just a page in and you find a fistful of questions.

From there she takes us to a training camp for personal bodyguards. I was thinking of going to one myself (though at my age I was thinking mostly about coming home: Wheel chair? Body bag? Stretcher?) to improve my knowledge of close-protection. Now I don’t have to. She set the scene with such clarity that you’re out of breath on the first morning’s run and feeling the bruised kidneys that evening. The first third of the story is a fascinating and perfect lesson in all aspects of the bodyguard business.

Ms. Sharp’s description of the training is so interesting you’ll barely notice the intriguing clues that make up the heart of the mystery. A distant kidnapping, a strange warning, an ineffective attack, a few things that don’t quite add up. Ms. Sharp will lull you into a comfortable routine at the training facility. Everything’s nice and cozy: you have a few clues, a few suspects and you’re working on the resolution. You think you have it under control.

When the bad guys invade your comfy pages, you’re shocked. And that’s why I call it a cozy thriller. You feel cozy, fascinated and comfortable, right up to the point where all hell breaks loose.

The action develops with unexpected twists and turns. Ms. Sharp’s fight scenes went from very good in her early books to incredibly good in this one. You will feel the bones breaking, the tendons tearing, your dinner turning over in your tummy. The shooting scenes will make you sweat. The tension between villains and good guys is realistic, you will never say, ‘wait a minute, that could never happen’. And, best of all, you will keep turning the pages.

Note to male readers: be forewarned, we nearly have the breakout of a romance novel—complete with feelings, recriminations, and equivocations. But Ms. Sharp was merciful. While she had plenty of romantic backstory from the first two books to draw from, none of the ‘relationship’ passages were so long you couldn’t skim your way out of it in a few seconds. Guys-Grade: A, for expected romantic interludes that are not enough to make you put the book down and say, ugh (see: Twilight… ugh).

Note to female readers: This is a thriller (the genre notorious for fights, car chases, and violence) not a romance novel. For this genre, I’d give it a Girls-Grade: A+, for fascinating sexual tension with depth of emotion and hope—springing eternal.

Bottom Line: Great series. Great Book. Highly recommended.

And I’m excited about reading more of Ms. Sharp’s work. When my son was four years old, we were taking down the Christmas decorations and had to reassure him that they would not be thrown away, they would be stored until ‘next year’. He started jumping up and down, clapping his hands and giggling with delight. He ran to tell his big sister, “Guess what! Guess what! Christmas comes every year! Yay!”

I had a similar epiphany when writing this review. I visited Ms. Sharp’s site to research how many books she has out there and discovered: Not only do I have SEVEN MORE BOOKS to read, but she writes SHORT STORIES TOO! Yay!

Peace, Seeley

*Unless you want to qualify Alan Bradley’s fine series of mysterious events solved by Flavia DeLuce as cozy… but I think Flavia would make you awfully uncomfortable if you did.
Profile Image for Harry.
319 reviews402 followers
August 4, 2012
Being interested in reading series mystery/detectives I ran across Zoe Sharp during my aimless wandering through book worlds online. I admit, reading the reviews I was skeptical as to whether or not I'd like this book for the simple reason that I'm interested in a particular type of hero (principled but tempted by physical violence, alone in the world by choice but always tempted to abandon this lifestyle). Female main characters usually do not fit this model if my previous reads are any indication. And so I considered that books written from the viewpoint of Charlie Fox, a female protagonist, might or might not interest me.

Having said that, the character of Sean Meyer did interest me. And so I dove into the Charlie Fox mystery/thrillers.

Ms. Sharp did a nice job of incorporating my particular interest, not just in the character of Sean Meyer, but also in the female protagonist. Charlie Fox is in the business of security, protection, and self-defense. That too went a long way into my choosing to read this series. Constantly weighing her principles against Sean Meyer vs. the various antagonist you will encounter in this series, Charlie Fox comes across has both hard boiled and vulnerable, hero and unwilling victim, intelligent and driven by desire.

As with all series books, read them in order! And if you've read this review of Charlie Fox than you've read them all. Ms. Sharp remains consistent in terms of interesting plots, depth of character to warrant a blanket review of the entire series.
2,147 reviews37 followers
March 28, 2020
4.5 Stars rounded up to 5 Stars.
Profile Image for Joan.
2,528 reviews89 followers
July 7, 2013
I bought the download of the first four of this series without having heard of this author - mostly because of an endorsement by Lee Child. I really enjoyed he first one in the series (Killer Instinct); the second one (Riot Act) was quite a disappointment by comparison. Of course, I still had the other two on my Kindle, so I moved on to Hard Knocks. As I pointed out in my reviews of the other two books, this author's writing style is highly interesting to me - her command of the language and her clever and precise use of it is fascinating in itself; however, in this novel, she also developed an extremely unusual and intricate plotline. A couple of examples of her excellent turn-of-phrase: ""It was only then that I realized that the old cupboard in my brain had fallen open - the one where I stored those years of German lessons. I'd forgotten it was there, let alone what might still be inside." "...vegetables that hadn't been cooked long enough to lose all structural integrity." "The logical half of my brain recognized the truth of it. The emotional half sulked and glowered and stuck its bottom lip out." "The afternoon was already starting its toboggan run into evening." "Temper is never the best thing to wear to a confrontation." "I was going to become the filling in a bad-guy sandwich." And my favorite: "He made it sound so simple. First lightly grease camel before passing it through eye of needle."
Profile Image for Sarah.
2,996 reviews45 followers
November 15, 2016
Charlie Fox is my new favorite mystery-solving bad ass. She's pretty good at getting into scrapes, but since she teaches self-defense and was a victim of a horrific attack years ago, she's excellent at getting out of them now. Now the pendulum swings the other way--she's terrified that she's going to kill someone instead of simply maiming them.

When her old British Special Forces officer/lover contacts her to find out why a colleague mysteriously died at a bodyguard training facility in Germany, Charlie reluctantly agrees to go undercover and figure it out. But there are bigger problems--children are getting kidnapped, guns are being traded, and lowlife European gangsters are involved, too. Charlie takes care of business though, of course.

This series was first published in Britain, so it's difficult to find all of the books in America in my library system, which is why I skipped from Killer Instinct to Book #3 that I had to read in large print. Hoping the rest of the series will be easier to find!
Profile Image for LJ.
3,159 reviews311 followers
August 24, 2007
HARD KNOCKS (Thriller-England-Cont) – VG
Sharp, Zoe – 3rd in series
Piatkus, 2003- UK Hardcover
Charlie Fox is asked by her former Special Forces instructor, and former lover, Sean, to investigate the death of a man who had betrayed her friendship and ruined her military career. Although she doesn’t care that he’s dead, she can’t refuse the request and goes undercover at a bodyguard training school in Germany. It soon becomes clear there’s something much darker and more deadly going on at the school and it’s up to Charlie to uncover the secrets and stay alive.
*** Sharp really knows how to write an engrossing, action-packed story. I’ve read the first two in the series and love Charlie. She is a wonderful protagonist; smart, tough, skilled yet has her vulnerabilities. The plot is tight and fast moving with very good action scenes. The tension and suspense really keep you going. I’ve the next two books on my shelf and look forward to more exciting times with Charlie.
Profile Image for comfort.
606 reviews98 followers
December 30, 2016
As this series continues we get to find out more about the brutal rape Charlie experienced whilst in the Army and its aftermath.
Sean (her ex lover/C.O.) hires Charlie to go undercover into a Body Guard training school in Germany to find out whop killed one of Sean's colleagues.
Charlie has to pretend she is a lesser of a trained operative than she actually is, but occasionally this is forgotten, like when she hits a perfect score at the shooting range, or she is able to hold her own in unarmed combat.
Sean and his off-sider- Charlotte are in constant contact with her via phone, but suddenly this gets cut off and things start to go wrong.
Profile Image for Heather.
298 reviews
March 17, 2014
I thoroughly enjoy this series.
Charlie Fox has no desire to see any of her old Army "buddies," and when Kirk Salter dies, she has no interest in the funeral. However, she is asked to attend and discovers that there's something not quite right about his death. She goes undercover at an elite bodyguard school to find out what is going on. In the process, she learns more about herself and what does matter.

Will she live through the events? Probably, since there are a lot more books in the series, but I can't wait to read on to find answers. Zoe Sharp is a captivating author. Read the series!
Profile Image for Judith Cranswick.
Author 21 books19 followers
February 23, 2014
Stayed up until the small hours to finish this book. The only disappointment is that I have come to an end and tonight I have no Charlie Fox to read! I have read every other Charlie Fox adventure so hurry up and get writing Zoe!
Hard Knocks is as fast and furious as the rest of the series. Tense, gripping, thrilling with a plot that twists and turns and keeps you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails in anticipation of the ever present danger.
Profile Image for Michael Sherer.
Author 21 books102 followers
May 2, 2012
I came late to the Zoe Sharp/Charlie Fox party and decided top start at the beginning. I'm glad I did because I can see the steady progression of Sharp as a writer and Charlie as a terrific protagonist. Hard Knocks takes a while to build up steam, but once it does, it'll rock and roll you flat on your back.
Profile Image for "Avonna.
1,203 reviews367 followers
January 7, 2013
Loved it! Charlie Fox is an amazingly complicated character that you just have to continuely cheer for. This third book is as page turning as the first two. I will definitely be reading more in this series and recommending it to all my friends!

Profile Image for Deb.
488 reviews4 followers
September 6, 2023
This third Charlie Fox tale was a much better read than books 1 and 2, in my opinion. Charlie's back story has been established, and her character is now free to be dumped into dangerous situations willy-nilly.
Charlie's one-time Special Forces trainer and ex-lover, Sean Meyer, asks Charlie to go undercover at a bodyguard training operation in Germany, where a former SF team member has died under mysterious circumstances. Kirk Salter was the man who stopped Charlie's rapists from killing her, but who was persuaded to testify against her in court. He, like Charlie, apparently had been unable to move forward from that betrayal. But Charlie chooses to help Sean not for Kirk, but because she is still sorting her feelings about Sean, who has yet to learn about Charlie's rape... and to escape a dull Christmas at her semi-estranged parents' home in Cheshire.
Charlie enters Major Gilby's training program as a civilian looking for professional bodyguard employment. Immediately, the various trainers begin to play mind games with the trainees, as well as putting them through brutal physical trials. It takes several chapters to sort out the various trainees and instructors, as some emerge as potential allies, others as suspects. Meanwhile, Charlie has to conceal her own Special Forces expertise, but some of the instructors recognize she is more than she appears, and begin keeping a closer eye on her.
A picture of a below-the-surface threat begins to form when Elsa, a German ex-policewoman, presents a story about a bodyguard assignment that went horribly wrong. Sean's computer pro Madeleine does some digging and uncovers the kidnapping of a girl who turns out to be the daughter of Major Gilby's business investor. Do the repeated attacks by four guys in a Peugeot have something to do with that kidnapping? Another death that preceded Salter's is revealed when one of the trainees turns out to be a brother of the deceased. Then one of the trainers is run off a narrow mountain road on his cycle and killed. Charlie is no longer sure if the threat is from outside or inside the training facility. Soon, the darker threat surfaces--and Charlie will have to choose whom to trust and on which side she'll make a stand.
My biggest complaint about this series is Charlie's continued battle over her emotions around Sean. In this book, he pretty much blots his copybook for me, by using physical violence and public humiliation on Charlie after he learns she did not tell him about her rape. Seriously, why would she even want anything further to do with someone who thinks further trauma and abuse is a great way to express your concern about a woman you supposedly care about?
That we end with the promise of more of this masochistic relationship stuff in the offing just makes me want to donate the next four books sitting on my shelf, unread. Still deciding. I liked the plot and tangled suspense of this book, and the characters were well-drawn. I kind of like Charlie at this point, although she is a psychological mess in need of heavy therapy. I'm just fed up with the Charlie/Sean mess.
Lots of violence of varying degrees, and a ton of gun talk for people who are into that.
Profile Image for Graeme Cumming.
Author 3 books14 followers
November 27, 2022
I have read the first couple of books in the Charlie Fox series. As far as I was concerned, I was happy enough with how the previous books had gone, but Hard Knocks cranks things up considerably. First, Charlie isn’t stumbling into a situation. This time, she’s been given a job to do. Then we have the scale of the job and the calibre of the adversaries. In a sense, I’d imagine anyone reading this one and then trying the earlier books might be disappointed – but only because expectations would’ve been raised. Having a series where the characters and plot continue to up their game is surely the best way for things to go, and that’s what’s happening here. Of course, there’s scope for things to go downhill now but comments I’ve seen elsewhere suggest not.

In my experience, things are getting better, and I can strongly recommend this series if you like a protagonist who’s very much human – the emotions and her capabilities feel very realistic. If you also like a plot to keep you guessing – I’d be lying if I said there are plenty of ‘I never saw that coming’ moments, but it certainly isn’t laid out for you on a plate, and action grounded in reality you're in for a treat.

Zoe Sharp clearly does her research – or she’s had a lot of training in self-defence and weapons. Everything about the fight and combat scenes gives the reader a sense this could really happen.

As ever, I don’t intend to set out any details about the plot – why spoil your fun? – but the presence of a school is explained early on – and seems a pretty good indicator as to why the title was chosen. That’s as much as I’m prepared to give away.

It isn’t essential to read the earlier books first, but – as I’ve already indicated – if you’re going to start with this one, you might want to give them a miss. Personally, I’m glad I didn’t, and would recommend starting at the beginning. Charlie Fox is a character I’m looking forward to getting to know more.
Profile Image for Denise.
912 reviews1 follower
January 29, 2020
Catching up on the earlier books in this series. I really like Charlie but disagree with the new Lee Child Foreward that opines that if Jack Reacher were a woman, he'd be Charlie Fox..." - a rather arrogant boast if you as me. If you haven't read the series, try it and decide for yourself. Charlie isn't a super hero type, merely competent and not a girlie girl. I found her character refreshing and realistic. Perhaps being written by a woman makes the difference.

Try a couple for yourself and decide.
Profile Image for Donna.
1,050 reviews52 followers
November 21, 2017
The plots of earlier books in the series were a little too simplistic, but this one veers hard in the other direction. The mystery this time out was unpleasantly convoluted.

I like the sense of voice and the overall style these have. I'm less fond of the way that the characters keep making these odd jumps of logic that the writing doesn't support. They're quick reads though, so I'll still probably try one more.
49 reviews
July 12, 2019
I have been truly enjoying this series. So far this one is my favorite. I like how as the relationship with Sean grows, Charlie is and will be the main focal point. The attention to detail, along with the brutality give it a very cool feel, while the mystery did leave my guessing to the end - and as usual what I thought was going to happen did not. I really love the book, the strong characters, and story.
Profile Image for DG.
157 reviews
July 18, 2021
I've really taken to this series, it's terrific! Non-stop action and suspense mixed with a real who-dun-it mystery. Zoe Sharp has matured as a writer thru this series and the stories are now consistently top notch.

of course, I could find fault (nothing is perfect), but why do so when it did everything I asked of it as a story. That is, it captivated me and never let me down from an absorbing experience.

I'm loving this series!
February 12, 2023
Review of hard knocks

In all fairness, I have never read books one and two of the Charlie Fox series. But I found hard knocks to begin the story very well, but later, on the balance of Charlie’s thoughts on the situation seem to be somewhat excessive and interfering with action scenes of which I thought weren’t that many. I will, however give it another try in the future. I think with book one instead of going to book four.
143 reviews
June 8, 2022
definitely found the stride of the character

I’m so happy I found this series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, but this one had just a little more. I am kind of amazed at the complexity of the story and of the characters. I am deeply impressed, and I am looking very much forward to more of her writing.
923 reviews4 followers
June 14, 2022
Pulse racing

A lot of action and confrontation. Charlie is placed undercover at a training facility to gather information about a murder. She's supposed to play down her skills, so no one gets suspicious. Turns out there are others undercover as well, they all have a different agenda. Throw in a little spark of romance from her former trainer, and it's a hit!
Profile Image for Shawn.
Author 6 books42 followers
October 1, 2018
Each Charlie Fox story is different: it’s not the same plot again and again. There are of course familiar structures in each—that’s what makes them a Charlie Fox story after all. I enjoy these novels a lot.
Profile Image for Vleigh.
416 reviews39 followers
December 26, 2021
Really enjoyed this one and was curious as to whether Charlie's relationship with an old flame would gain any traction. The location and characters were very different from the first two books which made it even more interesting.
Profile Image for Any Length.
1,601 reviews
September 9, 2018
good book and I loved the progression of Charlie and Fox's way of relating to each other. I am onto the next book already. Can't wait how it goes on.
October 22, 2018
Kick ass

Charlie Fox does what we all wish we could do to the bad guys. The series continues to get better and better.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.