Devil’s Bargain by Rachel Caine
(The Red Letter Days series, book #1)
Oh man. Each book I read by Rachel Caine reminds me just why I love this author so very much. The dialogue flows naturally with just the right amount of wit and freshness, the plot and action doesn’t let up, and the mystery and tension just keeps on coming.
For our main lead, we get Jazz-don’t-call-me-Jasmine, who’s hit rock bottom, but is still digging – her world was rocked when Ben, her partner, was convicted of murder. One part denial, two parts wishful thinking, she’s desperate to find proof of his innocence, unable to come to terms with the fact that she might have been so terribly wrong about him. In the meantime, she’s dumped into a whirlwind mystery of red envelopes and strange assignments.
Ex-decorated ex-homicide detective Jazz Callender’s career is over – her partner is in jail for murder, her reputation in tatters, and her one achievement for the week is finding a good bar with cheap drinks. So when a guy in a leather getup hands her a check for a hundred thousand dollars in a red envelope, she can’t figure out whether she’s being set up or the butt of some twisted joke.
But the offer’s legit – all she has to do is partner with a gorgeous stranger, set up a private detective agency on retainer for a law firm funded by the mysterious Cross Society, and accept any assignments they send her way.
Simple enough, right?
I do so appreciate Caine’s ability to craft a believable paranormal romance in 296 pages of action and adventure without getting the characters gobbled up by angst goblins or instant lurve tropes. It’ll be a balm to those readers who, like me, are a little tired of the romance plot triumvirate of alpha-male, skittish-female, and insta-love. The story just plain doesn’t sacrifice story for romantic subplot, nuff said.
This is a paranormal story, but don’t go in expecting vampires, witches and ghouls straight off the bat. The world in Devil’s Bargain plays by all the regular, mundane rules – but with a twist I refuse to spoil for you. But don’t worry; you won’t miss the lack of vampires. We still get plenty of action and suspense – the first mystery walks into a bar on page 7 and action explodes in Jazz’ face on page 10.
Now for the bad news.
I did end up knocking one canary out of five off its perch, and that’s for the ending. After the great pacing and rising action throughout, the last 50 were my stumbling block. There was nothing wrong with them, but I did get the distinct impression that the story looked up, saw the finish line, and said, “Oh crap, I have to wrap this up.” Even the cliffhanger – a device that has been responsible for me getting sequels to books I’ve absolutely hated – failed to grab me.
Taking a sneak peak at the second book in the series, it looks like the next novel will be about Lucia, Jazz’s partner, following the common Harlequin MIRA formula of having a book per couple. I’m disappointed I’ll be losing Jazz as the narrator, but also intrigued. Lucia, with her secret government past and bank accounts full of cash, has been a tightly-lidded mystery so far (and now I see why). Plus, it’ll be a treat to see what other characters think of Jazz.
If you can overlook the cover (right) unrepentantly soaked with goth and hair-styling-product, I recommend this novel to all readers who enjoy female-led urban fantasy, fast-paced suspense, a dash of lawyer-detective-police-tangle intrigue, and stories with powerful corporations trying to yank strings of badass characters they can’t quite manage to control.
Complimentary review copy courtesy of Harlequin UK.