MEC Reviews The Devil’s Orchard by Ali Vali
I approached Ali Vali’s fifth book in the Cain Casey series with a bit of caution. Not that I don’t love the series – I’ve re-read it quite a few times, enjoying the action, humour, and characters enough to find them a welcome haven when I’m stuck in one of those moods where nothing new piques my interest. Vali’s created memorable characters and some complex plots full of crosses and double-crosses that still keep me riveted, even when I know damn well what’s going to happen next because I’ve read the books so often. I will admit though, that the author’s habit of ending each book with cliff-hangers was starting to wear on my nerves. There’s nothing worse than racing through the last few chapters of a book, completely captivated by the plot then find myself left dangling precariously (along with the characters) with unresolved plot points and the promise of resolution in a year or two when the next book comes out. It appears that I don’t do patience well. 🙂
From the scuttlebutt I picked up at the GCLS conference, Vali plans two more books in the series and possibly a “prequel”. She’s already started to lay a bit of groundwork around the history of the Cain family and I’m suspecting that the prequel won’t be about a young Cain, but about her great (great?) grandmother. That’s a book I’d be very interested in reading. Needless to say, the last two books in the Cain series will be downloaded as soon as the BSB newsletter announces their release and I’ll be rereading the series from start to finish on a semi-regular basis.
The Devil’s Orchard is a welcome addition to the series. It picks up a short time after The Devil Be Damned and I think it does a lot to bring the series back on track, focusing the story back on Cain and Emma. Many of the characters who had larger roles in previous books are relegated to more peripheral parts; something I think needed to be done in order to make sure the whole storyline didn’t spin out of control. Vali was juggling a lot of characters and intersecting plots without having the chance to close some of them off satisfactorily within the confines of one book – hence the cliff-hangers. The Devil’s Orchard closes off a few outstanding plots (and characters … cause what’s the Devil series without a bit of retribution, murder, and mayhem?) while setting the stage for lots more action and intrigue in the next two books. Although I didn’t want the book to end, I was happy with the way things closed off in this chapter of the Cain saga.
Cain and Emma’s relationship is rock solid in this book – which is a good thing because everyone and everything seems to want to take them both down. The FBI continues to dog their every move – and the arrival of a new Special Agent in Charge with his own agenda adds some new wrinkles as he seems to be more willing to bend the law in his pursuit of Cain. The drug wars are heating up with Juan Luis, Anthony, and Gracelia seeming to work at cross purposes (although if the worked together, I think that they’d disintegrate even faster – the word dysfunctional does not even come close to describing that family). Shelby brings in a new investigator who has her own issues with Cain and then there’s a random obsessed old flame of Cain’s who is bound and determined to get Emma out of the picture and have the mobster all to her delusional self. Seriously, with all that going on, there was no room for the other romantic leads and supporting characters from the other books.
With Muriel and Shelby, Remi and Dallas, and Merrick and Katlin in the background, this book is more action than angst. It’s hard to believe that this series spans only about a year … Vali packs in a lot in that time frame and there were points where I wanted to go back and re-read The Devil Be Damned to refresh my memory of who’s who in the zoo and what dastardly things did they do. In addition to dropping the reader right back into the thick of things, Vali sets up things for future conflict – giving some tantalizing hints of what is yet to come. This is a book you don’t want to put down because you don’t want to miss a thing. My only quibble is that there were too many POVs in the book – I already know that the bad guys are bad, I don’t need to keep going back to see how bad (and sometimes just plain stupid) they are.
I found this to be a bit darker than the previous novels – with Cain making some rather harsh decisions and reactions on both a professional and personal level and even Emma is becoming more involved in the less than savoury side of Cain’s business. Cain advises Shelby that in order “To avoid the fruit of sin, stay out of the devil’s orchard. … Revenge is something you think will soothe the ache that loss leaves you with. Like apples growing in an orchard, it will tempt you, but it’s an illusion … Take my advice and avoid the orchard, the sin and the devil you’ll find there.” An interesting warning from someone who spends a good portion of the series exacting revenge (or is it retribution) against those who have harmed or threatened her own family.
Vali loves to tell a story that is firmly entrenched in the greys – you’re cheering for the criminals and jeering at the FBI. When all is said and done, Cain is a mobster – she’s smarter than the FBI, loyal to her family and friends, but make no mistake, she’s ruthless and unforgiving if crossed. Vali doesn’t sugar-coat the violence, but she doesn’t dwell on it either. I wouldn’t classify this as noir – Cain’s just a bit too charming and likable to be a noir anti-hero. It does have a gritty bite to it – definitely a departure from the standard lesfic romances; but, it still stands up as a strong ongoing romance series. The relationship between Cain and Emma sizzles and, even though they’ve been together for the last five books, they are still working their asses off to get to their happily ever after – no matter how many bodies they have to dispose of to get there.
If you’ve been reading the Cain series, pick this one up. It’s an excellent addition and ties up some of the loose ends from the other books. The Devil’s Orchard is a fast-paced read, full of twists and turns with an end that will leave you satisfied (for now) but eager to find out what Vali has in store for the New Orleans crew. If you haven’t read the series – go back and start at the beginning. This isn’t a series you can read as standalone – Vali’s developed a complex set of plots and characters that deserved to be savoured in their entirety. My love of this series has been re- invigorated and I’m looking forward to seeing how Cain’s story will play as the series comes to a close. Definitely recommended.