Without Rules by Andrew Field: A dark tale where many means are justified

Without RulesWithout Rules

by Andrew Field

Kindle Edition, 215 pg.
Boomstang, 2018

Read: October 9 – 11, 2018

Last week, in the many tributes to Elmore Leonard that I saw floating around on what would’ve been his birthday, I came across this quotation: “I don’t judge in my books. I don’t have to have the antagonist get shot or the protagonist win. It’s just how it comes out. I’m just telling a story.” Which seemed awfully appropriate as I was in the closing chapters of Without Rules at the time. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything Leonard-esque to Field’s novel*, but they definitely were working from the same ethos.

This book starts off showing you that it’s about as far as you can get from a cozy — a hit man and his accomplice on the run after a disastrous (yet successful) job take shelter in something between a brothel and a porn studio while waiting for extraction. Their unwilling hostess supplies them with booze, a laundry machine, and some meaningless sex in the meantime. When the opportunity presents, she tries to convince the hitman to rescue both herself and her daughter from their situation — being forced by her father to live and work in this place since she was about her daughter’s age. Naturally, it’s this same father who hired the hitman to take out one of his clients before he could be flipped by the police.

Things get messier from there — no, really. Soon, we’re plunged into a mare’s nest of police cover-ups, police investigations, evidence tampering, evidence planting, blackmail, murder, pedophilia rings, international drug dealers, and real estate fraud. This particular night ends in betrayals, deaths, lives and careers being ruined, missing people and near-death escapes. The book will then lurch ahead a couple of years to witness the chaos and destruction left by that night and how it’s altered, prospered and ruined lives — and attempts will be made by several to rectify that situation. The novel will then jump ahead as the events of part two have left even more trouble and chaos in their wake for the survivors to try to deal with the aftermath.

There’s a fine line between complex and convoluted — this novel doesn’t tip-toe down that line, it dances on it. When it falters, it typically lands on the convoluted side before resuming its jig. There are arguably too many characters running around — and few of them are fully rounded-out. But, largely, I’m okay with that — because the more I get to know just about any of these characters the less I wanted to know them at all. These are ugly people in the midst of ugly businesses.

With one or two climactic exceptions, the action is believable, the evil is all too real — there’s no criminal mastermind stroking his cat while the world burns. Instead we have several depraved individuals scraping to make their fortunes greater — or just to survive. There’s one well-timed Diabolus ex Machina that was hard to swallow that was necessary to set up the book’s conclusion, but otherwise the action stayed within the bounds of credulity.

In a capricious world, it’s odd to find so many characters talking about justice — generally how it’s impossible to find — but just about every one of these characters has a lot to say about it. There is an irony there for the careful reader to appreciate.

Minor spoiler: There’s no happily ever afters here. No redemption arcs. No one wears a white hat. A couple of characters do ride off into the sunset, but not in any real sense of victory or joy. The cynical among us — many would prefer to be called realists — would say that this is an accurate reflection of life. No justice, no just desserts, bad things happen to bad people, those who intend to be heroes become villains, a villain or two will find themselves doing something heroic, and everyone’s out for themselves and a profit. In a very noir world, Andrew Field offers us a very noir novel.

* That’s not a ding on Field, there’s pretty much no one who can write something Leonard-esque. And it’s generally embarrassing when they try.


Dead Blind by Rebecca Bradley: A gripping thriller featuring a uniquely disqualified hero

Dead BlindDead Blind

by Rebecca Bradley

Kindle Edition, 358 pg.
Read: August 9, 2018

There are two gripping stories in this novel — the primary one isn’t the crime story (odd for a work of crime fiction), but it is the better executed of the two. Which isn’t a slight to the secondary story, at least not intentionally.

Let’s start with the crime — DI Ray Patrick and his team are investigating an international organ smuggling ring. Every time I’ve run into this kind of story — in print or on TV — it has always been effective. Something about the idea of harvesting organs from people (who may or may not survive the process for at least awhile) to transplant into people who may or may not survive (given the less than ideal facilities for such activities) has always disturbed me. Then when my son was diagnosed with renal failure and we were told he’d need a kidney transplant, these kind of stories became more nightmarish for me. So yeah, basically, this was right up my alley.

Thankfully, he’d received his kidney a couple of weeks before I read this one, so it didn’t end up costing me sleep. Incidentally, the facts and figures about transplants, the need for them and the lack of donors, etc. all lined up with everything we’d been told. Yes, there are differences in protocols between the two medical systems, but on the whole, what Patrick and the rest learned matched what I’d learned. When it comes to thins kind of thing in novels, I’m always wondering how much the author fudged and how much came from research — I’m happy to say that Bradley got this right.

So this story — from how the ring operates to how Patrick and the rest investigate is very satisfying.

Which leaves the primary story. Patrick comes back to work from a nasty automobile accident, mostly recovered from his physical injuries. But that’s not the only injury he sustained. Patrick now is dealing with prosopagnosia, aka “face blindness.” Through some clever guesswork, and a whole lot of luck, he’s never revealed it to anyone other than his ex-wife (so she can help him with his kids). Now back at work, Patrick is attempting to hoodwink everyone into thinking he’s okay, because he doesn’t want to risk not losing his job.

On the one hand you want to see him pull off his silly scheme, on the other, you want to see him be the man of integrity everyone thinks he is and be honest with his colleagues and friends. Especially when Patrick’s inability to discern or remember faces jeopardizes the investigation.

Watching Patrick try to remember people via other means while trying to lead an investigation, and deal with the ramifications of the disorder in his personal life gives the book its emotional weight. And it delivers that in spades.

Patrick’s team is full of some pretty well-drawn characters, which also applies for the other people in his life — grounding the more outlandish flavorings of the other stories. I enjoyed the read and found it gripping — looking forward to seeing more from Bradley.


3 Stars

Burning Secrets by Ruth Sutton: A Child Abduction Sets Off a Disturbing Chain of Events

Burning SecretsBurning Secrets

by Ruth Sutton

Kindle Edition, 264 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018

Read: October 2 – 3, 2018

For a book that clocks in at 264 pages, Sutton packed in a lot of story. I’m having difficulty deciding what to focus on, I’ve got to say. If only all authors could present a guy with such problems . . .

This book starts off with a child abduction — a child, Helen Helsop, that we get to know a little bit before she’s abducted. Immediately I groaned, because the last thing I wanted to deal with is a book about a little girl getting snatched and then dealing with whatever abuse is looming. Without spoiling much, let me assure you — nothing like that happens. This is not that kind of kidnapped child story. This doesn’t mean that she’s been taken for benign or even beneficial reasons, however.

Helen hasn’t been living at home — she’s been staying with family in town so she can attend school. Because theirs is a farming community — predominately, or at least heavily, a dairy and cattle area, and this is 2001 — the height of the Foot and Mouth crisis. I’ll be honest, as an American in a pre-social media age, I didn’t have a strong grasp on the effect this had on smaller farmers — I just never was exposed to it. I got what it meant on the national/industry front, but didn’t think much more about it. If I had, it would’ve been obvious just how much this would decimate a community, an individual family, and why this was such a horrible crisis. Anyway, back to Helen — she hasn’t had a good time of it in this temporary home and is easily persuaded to leave. It’s hours (of course) before anyone notices that she’s missing, and even then, most of her family doesn’t believe she’s actually missing.

Before that, thankfully, the police are called in — we focus on DC Maureen Pritchard — a well-known fixture in the community (not as well-known as her father, however) and the newly-arrived DS Anna Penrose. There’s a little professional jealousy between the two — Pritchard envies another woman in a position she was denied and Penrose would love the acceptance and respect her fellow officers seem to have for Pritchard. But largely, they can put that aside to focus on Helen. It’s obvious from the start that the foster family and Helen’s actual family are both holding back from the police, but it’s hard to tell if it’s germane to the case, or if it’s just things that no one wants to share with outsiders.

This is all so compellingly told — the layers that Sutton is working on are something to behold. She’s excellent at revealing more and more about Pritchard and Penrose while they’re uncovering more about Helen’s life and whoever took her. You could make the case (I think you’d be wrong, but you can make it) that the mystery in this novel takes a back seat to the drama surrounding the women and their superiors. Initially, probably because we meet her first, I was pulling for Pritchard to solve the case, rescue the girl and save the day to put Penrose in her place. But soon, I just wanted the two of them to knock off the nonsense and just work together — preferably by being open with each other about what’s going on. I won’t say if I was ultimately satisfied in that desire, but I can say that Sutton deals with their relationship in a way that is absolutely believable and realistic — a very satisfactory job.

The greatest impediment to the search for Helen isn’t the fact that the family is hiding something(s), the difficulty in tracking down a person of interest, the cleverness of the kidnapper, finding a particular van in a decent size, getting a straight answer out of scared kids with overbearing/concerned parents interfering (for nefarious reasons or unintentionally), or any of the other absolutely understandable and inevitable roadblocks. Instead, it’s Detective Inspector Stanley Bell — he’s too focused on the budget and on impressing his DCI, not that we can forget his obvious misogyny and blatant racism. It’d have been easy for Sutton to leave him as a buffoon, an obstacle, a foil for Pritchard and Penrose — but she doesn’t, there are times when he seems to be a perfectly capable police officer. But those times are the minority — it is fun to watch his subordinates play him to get their way, Penrose learns from Pritchard’s example quickly on this front.

If I tried to talk about the kidnapper, I’d spoil it — if I tried to talk about Helen’s family, I’d fail. I can’t summarize what Sutton did there (I was reductionistic enough with the police — and I’d still be reductionistic if I’d included everything I wanted to say about them) — I’ve known men like her father and older brother. I could feel their pain, their frustration — with their life in general, even before Helen’s abduction, which just seemed like the next-to-last straw for them. Between Foot and Mouth, general hardships (physical and financial) related to this lifestyle, too much alcohol, and a wife who wants more than all this — it’s just too much for people to take.

The depiction of Helen is really strong, as well — she is a scared twelve year-old doing the best she can in a horrible circumstance. At some point the police don’t understand why she did X in a situation. I wanted to yell at them, “because she’s a scared little kid!” Of course, she’s not going to act like a rational adult. (The other thing I had a hard time buying was that given the emphasis the officers put on local knowledge, was that it was the outsider who understood the importance of getting his cows milked to a dairy farmer)

I’ve gone on too long, and haven’t said nearly enough. So let’s hit the important things as I try to wrap up.As I said at the outset — this is not a typical kidnapping novel. Every assumption you make early on in the book will prove to be mistaken, but it all feels organic, it all seemed natural. This isn’t one of those books where you can see the author moving pieces around to achieve her ends. I have no doubt she did — but I couldn’t see it. There’s some good action, some very clever policework, and a strong psychological-thriller bent to parts of this as well. There’s a strong Perry Mason-esque quality to the strategy the police employed at the end, which I appreciated. Burning Secrets ticks almost every box a mystery-fan will have on their list.

This is a novel about family secrets, family problems — all families, on some level, I’m sure. There are strong threads about options various women take to take care of their families and themselves — what lengths they may go to, what shortcuts they may take, what hard choices they may make — to secure happiness, health, or survival. This is a novel about change — individual and societal — how difficult that is. But none of these themes detract from a heart-stopping and heart-breaking story about a kidnapping and the consequences radiating from it. All in less than 300 pages — not a bad feat.

I have no idea if Sutton intends to write more about these characters (there’s every reason to think she will, given her track record) — but I’d love to spend more time with them. If Penrose and Pritchard can turn their détente into some sort of working understanding, or better, a real partnership, they’d be a fantastic combination (for drama, they’d still be interesting if they don’t form any closer relationship, but it wouldn’t be as fun to read). Sutton does have a pretty hefty backlist, and I should try to dive in — and you should, too. Start with this, though, it’ll whet your appetite for the rest.


4 Stars
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Scoundrels Among Us by Darrin Doyle: An Impressive Array of Short Fiction

I thought I had another week to get this up in time for the release — which was actually two days ago. This is why I’m supposed to trust what I write down (and consult that frequently) rather than what I remember.

Scoundrels Among UsScoundrels Among Us

by Darrin Doyle

PDF, 284 pg.
Tortoise Books, 2018

Read: July 24 – August 6, 2018

The trouble I often have when talking about collections of short stories is just how to do talk about the collection as a whole. After tossing around some ideas, I think the easiest way to sum up my reaction to these stories is with his simple question: What was he thinking?!?!

Now sometimes I asked that question incredulously, sometimes in awe, sometimes in confusion, sometimes in bafflement, sometimes all of the above. But I kept asking it. Some of these are incredibly short, some are on the longer side — told from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of tones. So beyond my one question, I don’t know how to address them collectively. I won’t go into detail on them all individually (that’s just too many), but let’s take a look at some that stood out.

The collection starts with “Insert Name,” a story about the struggles of nonuplets growing up and then transitioning to adulthood in a very unexpected way. It impressed me, and made it clear that this wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill short story collection. By the time I got to the sixth entry, “Dangling Joe,” I knew a couple of things — Doyle’s mind doesn’t work the way most people’s does, and that I needed to toss out every expectation I had when I started each story. Whatever I was starting was going to be different from what had come before, and I needed to be ready for that.

The highlight of the book is “If the Invisible Man Dies and Nobody Sees it, Does He Really Die?” This is impossible to describe, but brilliant. He does so many things in this story — in addition to telling a compelling story — that I can’t sum it up easily. Give me 15 pages or so, and I’d be willing to give it a shot. It’s one of the best things I’ve read this year.

My notes on “Twilford Baines, Buck Hunter Unbounded” were simple, “that’s really good.” I just re-read it to see if I could expand on that, and no, I really can’t. It’s a story about a man hunting deer, who is forced into some concentrated self-reflection, and it’s really good. Re-reading it tempted me to push this off another day to re-read most of the stories, actually.

“Slice of Moon” was a great read, but personally frustrating. I think if you read it, you’ll agree. I can’t think of anything else to say without ruining it. If not for “Invisible Man,” it’d be my favorite story in the collection (given how annoyed he made me with it, however, maybe it was more effective than “Invisible Man,”).

I invoked Flannery O’Conner recently, and hesitate to do it again, however, I’m compelled to. Except for the explicit sexual content (which wasn’t really necessary), “Reborn” could’ve come from the pages of Everything That Rises Must Converge. It was powerful and strange and I’m glad I got to read it.

Were there some in this collection that didn’t work for me? Yes. There were some real clunkers — but there was nothing I wasn’t glad to read. As usual, some of the stories that didn’t work for me will work for you. And the one’s that sent me over the moon won’t do much for you (you’ll be wrong most of the time there — especially if you don’t love “If the Invisible Man Dies and Nobody Sees it, Does He Really Die?”). One thing I think everyone who picks this up will agree is: Darrin Doyle is a great writer and you should read his stories. You’ll probably also ask yourself “What was he thinking?” more than once. Go grab it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this collection in return for my honest thoughts and this post — which I appreciate..


4 Stars

Cats, Cannolis and a Curious Kidnapping by Cheryl Denise Bannerman: A light, cozy snack of a mystery novel to kick off a new series.

Cats, Cannolis and a Curious KidnappingCats, Cannolis and a Curious Kidnapping

by Cheryl Denise Bannerman
Series: Anna Romano Mystery Series, #1

eARC, 122 pg.
Read: September 25, 2018

I tried so hard to work in a Clemenza joke here, even if it seems a bit obvious to do so. But I just couldn’t.

Anna’s a mystery writer — successful enough that she can be a full-time author (a rare breed nowadays) — a doting cat owner, and a pretty decent cook. All in all, the kind of person you’d want to spend time with (especially if you don’t have to deal with cat hair). She’s single, and is trying hard to convince herself that she’s okay with that (but it’s getting harder). We first meet here when she has an odd encounter with a man at a signing at a bookstore, but doesn’t think much about it.

Not long after that, however, that man shows up in her life here and there — and she starts to get worried. After one incident where he grabbed her momentarily, Anna tries to report it to the police, and is brushed off. So she’s driven to take the skills her characters display and use them for herself to try to figure out what this man could be up to. While Anna is pulling her Ian Ludlow act, the stalker steps up his act and next thing Anna knows, she’s been kidnapped and is going to have to fight to survive and get back to her cats. Meanwhile, the one police officer that took her seriously finds himself practically obsessed with her case once she goes missing.

We get this story told to us from three first person narrators — Anna, her stalker, and Det. John Solace. Solace is the detective who takes the stalker report seriously and investigates when things get more threatening. Sometimes I find that kind of thing to be a choice that doesn’t help a story, or sometimes I think it hurts — but here, this really helps. This novel wouldn’t work as well if you took one or two of these narrators out. Anna’s voice is the strongest, the most approachable — but even our villain is someone you can enjoy reading. Even when things get dangerous, the voices (to varying degrees) stay breezy, conversational and approachable. There is a sense of fun that pervades this work, and it’s what makes this as successful as it is.

I do wonder about the rapid nature of the romance, it seemed a bit rushed. Then again, it’s more satisfying than the 5+ years that the Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott build-up has gone on (at least for the readers) — so who’s to complain?

I do think that this book needed an editor — and I’m not talking a copy editor (although, that could’ve helped, too) — a strong critical pass or two to strengthen the strength points and cut the weaknesses from this and I can easily see this gaining fans by the bucket-load and even jaded guys like me being able to be effusive with praise. But as it is, I can just say that this is a cute story with a lot of charm — and charm goes a long way. I could list the issues this book has — and under different circumstances, I might. But why? Bannerman’s not trying to be the next Don Winslow or Jacqueline Chadwick. This is supposed to be a breezy little cozy, and if you sit back and let it be that, it succeeds.

If you’re looking for a light, sweet literary snack — a cannoli, if you will — this’ll hit the spot. Give it a whirl. The sequel is set to come out in January, so you won’t have to wait too long for another bite.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.


3 Stars

Stoned Love by Ian Patrick: No Sophomore Slump in Sight with this Thriller.

Stoned LoveStoned Love

by Ian Patrick
Series: Sam Batford, #2

Kindle Edition, 246 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: September 14 – 15, 2018

I need to blend in where I shouldn’t belong. The best undercover officers have no air of ego or the appearance of a police mannequin. After all, one sniff of pig and your ass is bacon. I’ve no intention of being served up at any criminal’s barbecue.

How do you follow up 2017’s Rubicon, the twisty, morally ambiguous (at best) tale of an undercover cop? Well, if you’re Ian Patrick, you do it by bringing that shady cop back and putting him in a tighter spot with threats (physical, legal and career) on all sides.

Sam Batford has had a little time off to recuperate and get his head on straight after Rubicon — hopefully giving the heat on him a little time to cool down, and maybe give Big H time to move on from the setback Batford dealt him.

The Met has a new assignment for him — working with the same DCI as he did last time, DCI Klara Winter. During the last assignment, she wasn’t sure she could trust Batford — now she’s convinced that she can’t. In fact, while she wouldn’t mind taking down the criminals that Batford infiltrates, her main objective is to arrest Batford and his Superintendent Mike Hall, a pair she’s convinced are dirty. She’s right, of course, but that’s beside the point.

Ostensibly, Batford’s assignment is to infiltrate a group that’s supposedly planning a major armed robbery and will need a driver of some sorts. But the clock is ticking so he doesn’t have time to do this carefully. Winter has someone already embedded with the crew giving her information, and their primary purpose is to get dirt on Batford and Hall. Which sounds good, but when you get a couple of guys as cagey and wily as this pair, that’s no easy task.

At the same time, Hall’s told Batford that between family and work stresses, this is his last hurrah. Now, he’d like to start his retirement with a sizeable bankroll, and trusts that Batford will find a way to make the both of them some money from just whatever it is that this crew is up to. The crew’s leader, who goes by the cuddly moniker of Razor, is a long-time “unauthorized informant” of Hall’s. And now, he’s sending Batford in to get him arrested. Which seems odd, but it does give Hall enough of an inside track to help Batford.

So, essentially, Batford needs to find a way to get rich off these criminals, hopefully get enough evidence for some arrests, stop them from pulling off whatever they’re trying to — and avoid getting arrested himself (not that he knows he’s being targeted for that). Oh, yeah, and Big H hasn’t moved on, forgotten or forgiven him — in fact, he has an active contract out for Batford’s life, and there are people trying to collect on that. Sounds like a pretty rough time for him.

In Rubicon, there was a question (at least for me) throughout — just how bent is Batford? Will he actually do law enforcement, or is he just out for himself? What are the limits for him? Will he have any success in either his criminal or police activities? In Stoned Love, the questions are different — we know he’s bent pretty far. So it’s just will Batford survive? Will Winter arrest him? Will Hall use him to save his own skin? Will Razor do something to him? Will Big H’s killers eliminate him?

This changed the dynamic of the book for me, and made it a lot easier for me to enjoy this novel and cheer on Batford. There’s no moral or legal gray area any more. Like Michael Corleone or Hannibal Lechter, Sam Batford is a despicable character that the reader wants to find success. Thankfully, he’s nervy enough and clever enough, that there’s a pretty good chance that he will. At least for a while.

Winter is manipulative, deceptive and devoted more to her career than anything else. But she’s, technically, the good guy here. Everyone else is the kind of criminal that the police are supposed to stop, not become. But because we’re in Batford’s head,and Winter’s primarily seen as an obstacle for him to overcome, the reader roots for him and against her — knowing the whole time that it should be the other way around.

There’s frequent and repeated commentary on the effects of Brexit, budget cuts, personnel cuts and other moves by the British government that are impacting the police services throughout the novel. Patrick is a former police officer and if these aren’t his actual views coming forth through Batford, he’s a better author than I think. If Batford’s diagnosis of what’s going on with the police in Britain is accurate, it sounds pretty frightening.

It’s a minor thing — I only noticed this as I started to write this post, and I’ve recently had a bad experience with reading a novel that couldn’t pick a verb tense, so I was primed — but Patrick’s use of the present tense for these books is a subtle, and incredibly effective way of cranking up the tension, propelling the action forward, and pushing the reader to keep up with the pace of the book. I should’ve picked up on it with Rubicon, and am a little annoyed with myself for taking this long to notice.

I enjoyed Rubicon, but I appreciated what Patrick was doing and how he was doing it more. With Stoned Love, I still admired and appreciated his skill and aims, but I enjoyed the story more — I resented things like work and family for preventing me from finishing this as quickly as I wanted to, and absolutely relished an airline flight that meant I had uninterrupted reading time*. I think Stoned Love is an all-around better effort (which is saying something) and makes me very excited to see what comes from Ian Patrick next.

Not everyone enjoys reading books where the police are just as dirty as those they’re supposed to be stopping — and I understand that — but if you’re someone who can embrace a tarnished knight, someone who seems to be law enforcement malgré lui, you don’t want to waste any more time, get your hands on Rubicon and Stoned Love and prepare to be impressed.

* I also really appreciated having this to focus on rather than the fact that I was in a giant metal tube that has no business being that far off the ground, but that’s another story.


4 1/2 Stars

Ed’s Dead by Russel D. McLean: From Wallflower to Most Wanted — the Story of Jen

Ed's DeadEd’s Dead

by Russel D. McLean

Kindle Edition, 274 pg.
Contraband, 2017
Read: September 15, 2018
Going to keep this brief — like the book itself.

Here’s the back-of-the-book blurb — which provides a couple of details I don’t think I would have, but I’m not sure how you talk about the book without giving.

           Meet Jen, who works in a bookshop and likes the odd glass of Prosecco…oh, and she’s about to be branded The Most Dangerous Woman in Scotland. Jen Carter is a failed writer with a crap boyfriend called Ed – who she accidentally kills one night. Now that Ed’s dead, she has to decide what to do with his body, his drugs and a big pile of cash. And, more pressingly, how to escape the hitman who’s been sent to recover Ed’s stash. Soon Jen’s on the run from criminals, corrupt police officers and the prying eyes of the media. Who can she trust? And how can she convince them that the trail of corpses left in her wake are just accidental deaths? A modern noir that proves, once and for all, the female of the species really is more deadly than the male.

Jen is a character we’ve all seen before — she’s not assertive (especially when it comes to this horrible boyfriend), she lets her boss push her around — actually pretty much lets everyone push her around, actually. Until she Ed meets his untimely end. This breaks things open for her — she has to take steps to preserve her life and freedom. This sort of carries over into other aspects of her life — and when the criminals, corrupt cops, uncorrputed cops, school friends, and everyone else comes calling, she finds herself being assertive, daring, and even brash.

Once things get moving in this book, they don’t stop — McLean’s prose is lean and gripping. It’s the right match of voice, pacing and content. The characters may not be the most well-rounded, but they don’t need to be for this to work. There are some more developed than most, true. But this isn’t the kind of book filled with fully-developed characters, it’d just slow things down. You get enough to meet the need of the plot, and nothing else. It’s all about keeping things moving at a good clip. I couldn’t take a steady diet of that kind of book, but when done right (as it is here), it can make for a great ride.

I read this so quickly I couldn’t believe when it was done — the prose moves quickly, the pacing is great, it’s like an out-of-control train plummeting down a grade, and all you can do is hold on and hope that safety gear works. It’s violent, action-packed, and adrenaline-fueled — most importantly, in the middle of the tumult and destruction, Jen finds a way to exercise agency, which is great to see — and somehow throughout it all, there’s a sense of fun that permeates everything without toning down the brutality.

This isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea — but if you read that blurb above and think, “that could be fun,” you’re right. Give it a whirl, you won’t be sorry.


3.5 Stars