Red envelopes

Devil's Bargain  - Rachel Caine

And how disappointed was I when I discovered that, although I received this book from Netgalley, it is not the beginning of a new series but in fact the first of only two books written in this world, and the second book was published over six years ago? I was a bit crushed, is how disappointed.

Out of the blue one afternoon, Jazz Callender is handed a red envelope by a handsome man (in a ridiculous outfit, but I'll let that be a surprise). She's not in the mood for a Valentine from a stranger, and it's the wrong time of year, so it takes some convincing on the stranger's part to get her to open it – and even more convincing to make her take what's inside seriously. The stranger is James Borden, a lawyer with the firm of Gabriel, Pike, and Laskins, and what's in the envelope is an offer from said firm: they propose that she take the check for one hundred thousand dollars enclosed and use it to open up a private investigation agency. Two conditions come with the check: cases from their firm would take priority over any others, and she must go into this project with a partner she's never met, one Lucia Garza. It could be a golden opportunity – or it could be an elaborate trap of some kind. Or something else entirely. There's only one way to find out.

The worldbuilding in this book was terrific. The details are doled out carefully, and naturally – Rachel Caine knows what she's doing. She knows how to set the hook, and get a reader on the line, and reel her slowly in … She knows there's no need to dump all the facts on her in Chapter One, or even Two or Three or Ten. Once the reader's caught, she's going to be there, dying to know why Jazz isn't a cop anymore, and why her partner is in jail, and what happened to make Manny the way he is … It's a level of confidence in the patience and intelligence of the reader that isn't seen very often. It drove me crazy – I wanted the answers – but at the same time I was favorably impressed by the buildup. And there was certainly plenty to keep me occupied while I waited – this was an action-packed book. Well done.

The people who inhabit that built world were also terrific. Jazz isn't cuddly, by any means, but she's interesting, and she's sympathetic without asking for anyone's sympathy. She does not trust or take to Lucia at once; their interactions are note-perfect, completely believable. As are those between Jazz and Borden. And did I mention I loved Manny? The second-tier characters could each of them carry a book, easily. They're all competent without being superheroes (except for Manny, and he's admittedly a freak), fallible and vulnerable and coming to the page each with his own fully realized past and present, and future as well. They're not a cookie-cutter Scooby Gang, this lot.

The plot never really lets up. Caine moves it along masterfully at professional-driver-on-closed-road speeds until it executes a three-hundred-sixty-degree spin and stops on a dime, rocking gently. I've meditated before on when and whether to give out five-star ratings, and the philosophy I've developed about it is that if a book fulfills its promise, does everything it's supposed to do as an exemplar of its genre, shows off its writer's abilities nicely, and makes me happy to read it, then it doesn't have to be Tolkien or Austen or Kay: it has earned five stars.

I am very put out with Netgalley for reeling me in with this book as if it were the beautiful beginning of a gorgeous new series rather than the eight-year-old first of two books. Teases.

Great quote: P 30 - Having a family doesn't mean you have a life. Only relatives.