[Book Review] Assassinations and the second-book syndrome

devils-dueDevil’s Due by Rachel Caine (Red Letter Days #2)

You know those brilliant first books where the mystery is explosive, the danger looming, and the characters thrown in the deep end, barely treading water? That was Devil’s Bargain. A fun, romantic suspense/action thriller that pitted ex-cop Jazz against her mysterious benefactor – a powerful organization with endless oogles of money that mailed her mysterious instructions in red envelopes. She could take the money and be a pawn, or she could throw it all away and be a target.

In book one, Jazz and her partner, Lucia, decided to be pawns. In this second (and, I think, last) installment of the series they chose free will (and the subsequent imminent threat to their lives). Told from Lucia’s perspective, Devil’s Due picks up at the end of Devil’s Bargain. Ben, his name finally cleared, is about to be released from prison, Lucia’s past rears its deadly head, and detective cases (and red letters with morally questionable instructions) keep on coming. And, of course, romance and suspense and action.

Here’s the thing, though. Remember all the stuff I said about the first book in paragraph one? Well, the second book suffers from the consequences of that non-stop action. The moment the action takes a breather in Devil’s Due, characters gotta talk. They gotta rationalize their past and future decisions, they gotta figure out what they should do, because now that people aren’t shooting at them nonstop, that’s what real people do.

I could feel my fluffy canary feathers wilting as characters talked back and forth. I was losing faith. My eyes kept flickering to the page count.

But about halfway through, the book pulled it together and I got that perfect dose of action and suspense for which I so love Rachel Caine. Guest star Gregory steals the show. Manny pops up a few times. Lucia is fantastic. The romance works incredibly well for two people who’d only known each other a few days. And things happen, explosively.

There are a few surprises too; the story makes several dark turns that I haven’t seen before in Harlequin imprints and makes the character deal with them very quickly with things that would put most of us in therapy for a long long time. I’m being intentionally vague here, but wow, I did not see that coming and I’m not sure I’m a fan.

All-in-all, a mixed bag.

Canary verdict:

(Definitely read this if you liked Devil’s Bargain. Otherwise, try a different series? )

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