Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Devil's Bargain by Rachel Caine

 Jazz is an ex-police officer whose life was well and truly derailed by her partner being arrested – and convicted – for murder. Quitting her job and leaving some hostile officers behind who would love to lock her away as well, she is determined to have him proven innocent and validate herself, her judge of character and the trust she placed in him. And silent that nagging doubt at the back of her own mind.

Then there comes an offer that seems more than too good to be true. Funding and guaranteed cases to set up a PI firm – something she had tried to do but failed to get the financing for. And there’s only one catch – she needs to work with a partner, Lucia Garza, ex-FBI agent who is looking for a challenge and a less structured work place.

They’re both duly wary but they quickly work well together and even if it is too good to be true, who turns down such an offer? Even if there are guys who seem to be willing to fight – and even kill them – since the offer arrived.

But, in between their other cases, they complete their benefactors cases. Cases which seem both trivial and bemusing. It’s only when these seemingly benign cases are connected to a murder; revealing a much larger and more bizarre reason for their recruitment.

For a long time I thought I’d made a mistake with this book. I thought “Devil’s Bargain” was entirely metaphorical and there was no supernatural elements at all. I thought I’d actually picked up a standard mystery without any magic, vampires, angels or even a slightly confused Christmas elf.

And I was fine with that.

Which is saying a lot for me. Unrepentant geek that I am, I have little time or interest in books which don’t contain some element of the fantastic. Aliens, vampires or elves, it has to have something non-mundane to keep me interested. But this book I was quite happy to keep on reading without the supernatural.

The main reason for that was probably the characters. I loved Jazz and I loved how she and Lucia bounce off each other. They did fit together perfectly – and yes, it was a little freaky how quickly and amazingly they gelled (but explained within the book) – but they did gel so well. They’re funny, they’re witty, their skills go together – and even with Lucia having so many qualifications, Jazz still fits in with useful skills and additions, she isn’t the junior partner. We don’t face a classic situation of the cool, competent one and the spunky, inept yet plucky and lucky one. They’re both competent, both capable, both extremely good at their job and both bring unique elements to the partnership. I even love how she bounces off Pansy, and she only has a bit role. In fact, this is what makes the book for me – all the characters, even Manny and Pansy who are in such minor roles, are such great characters in their own right.

Jazz does start with a little Keille independence, but she quickly grows out of it (thankfully). She also has some annoying guilt complexes. Most of it is very real and very human – it’s reasonable for her to doubt herself and her judgement of character after her partner is thrown in prison for murder, after all, when you trust someone so much and it feels like that trust is misplaced, it’s reasonable to doubt yourself. However, she does take this and turn it into “oh everything is my fault and I am so worthless” more than a couple of times – but not so many times that I’m turned off the character. Her flaws are reasonable and when they step outside the reasonable, they don’t stay that way. It’s a really nice balance.

I also like her relationship – normally I find love interests distract and are so often done poorly. But while there is instant attraction between her and James, there isn’t instant love, it takes months to develop in the midst of a great deal of sexual tension and well done antagonism.

Lucia, in addition to being an excellent, competent, fun character, is also a Latina woman who has both cultural and language references  - btu also contains criticism and exposure of the racism she faces – stereotyping in her job, racial profiling for having dark skin. It’s not a major part of the book, but it’s not forgotten.

Unfortunately, the only reference to GBLT people in this book was using an anti-gay slur – if you’re going to erase a minority, the least you could do is erase the hate speech against them as well.

I do like Jazz’s morality. There’s so often an “end justifies the mean” mentality to detective stories and her greater insistence on not breaking the law is refreshing. I especially love how she is adamant when it comes to killing that it’s wrong and that, no matter who and why, saving a life is always good. Even killing a paedophile who had kidnapped a child affected her – she never devalues life and makes a point of stressing its importance.

On the story in general, a supernatural element did arise ion the plot – and it’s a doosey. Duelling psychics.  Each manipulating events with their pawns, their Actors, towards unknown ends – but ends which are apparently pretty major. The subtle actions they use, the subtle presences, to try and alter major evens, seemingly minor things apparently having massive consequences – and each just trying to tip the scale in their favour – it’s a really fascinating idea. Obviously I have read some excellent books with psychics in them before – but 2 people reading the future, duelling to move the odds in their favour is a different one to me, really unique, really novel and really fun. A battle by increments, but infinitesimal changes, by seemingly random acts that build up into a whole – I can’t wait to read the rest of this series and see how that develops from this.

Even leading up that, the character interactions, their day in work as PIs and surviving the machinations of the Eidolon corporation make an exciting story even without the great  psychic concept.

I’m going to enjoy this series.