Welcome back, Ms. Vali. I’ve missed you.
I haven’t had a lot of luck with Vali’s recent books and have struggled to finish them for a number of reasons. It bothered me to no end as I really enjoy the Cain series and some of her earlier contemporary romances. With Double-Crossed, I’m back in the Vali fold and found myself devouring the book over less than 24 hours (the dog was not happy to have her morning dog park visit delayed to an afternoon visit because I wanted to finish the book). Is the book perfect – no. Did I enjoy the heck out of reading it – hell yeah.
In Double-Crossed, Vali is back to what I think she does best – bad girls. This is more of a suspense/crime novel than a romance; although, there is a romance that is kind of inevitable but doesn’t have the sweeping intensity of the Cain/Emma pairing. As the title suggests, this is a book full of conspiracy and double crossings. So much so that at times, I found it a bit exhausting to keep up with all the shenanigans – who was plotting what with who and planning to screw over which family for what reason. There were a ton of mobsters and their families in this one and I think if the plot and characters were tightened a bit more, this would have hit a five star rating for me – as it was, things got a bit convoluted as I tried to keep too many characters who kept popping up and their motivations and end games straight.
Reed Gable, a thief and contract killer, is hired to dispose of a philandering husband in as humiliating a way as possible by his angry wife (and mob daughter). From this point on, a number of seemingly unrelated events involving money laundering, corrupt casino managers and several mob families conspire to put Reed onto another contract to dispose of an auditor who may have dug a little too deep into the books. Faced with the task of having to kill a young mother, Brinley Myers, and her one-year old son, what’s a hardened contract killer to do?
Vali seems to have a particular talent in making bad girls into heroes – Reed is a great example. Unlike Cain, who inherits the top spot of a crime family (and manages to expand it through some pretty ruthless tactics), Reed has a pretty shitty past and is more of a self-made woman that gets the job done just as ruthlessly. She’s good at what she does and doesn’t regret the choices that she’s made – and despite what she does at the start of the novel with the cheating husband and his girlfriend, she does have a limit which is lucky for Brinley. Brinley, is a pretty resourceful person in her own right – she’s made some bad decisions but has moved on, making the best of things. There’s just the right amount of backstory for both Reed and Brinley – Vali doesn’t go for over the top angst as she gives a bit of rationale for Reed’s actions and decisions and even Brinley’s character doesn’t dwell obsessively over the past. I liked them both. The romance is almost secondary to everything else that is going on – it could easily be put down to Stockholm Syndrome as Reed has Brinley stashed away in a hideout while she tries to sort out the mess, but I think there’s enough there to make the relationship believable (or maybe there’s just so much other shit going on that you are desperate to latch onto anything that doesn’t have corruption and greed at the heart of it).
Remi and Mano Jatibon make an appearance – which makes sense as one of their assets is the Gemini casino in Vegas. They seemed to be the only rational mobsters in the city. It was nice to see them out from under the shadow of Cain and working on their own business dealings and I’m kind of hoping that we more of them and Reed and Brinley.
At one point I had a sinking feeling (and a little bit of anticipation) that this was going to be an ongoing series – I was horrified that I’d come up the end with a massive cliffhanger, but also really happy to anticipate more of Reed and Brinley and the goings on in Las Vegas. Happily, the book buttons up most of the loose ends and can stand on its own – no cliffhanger that will have me waiting a year or more to find out what comes next. Even more happily, I can easily see Vali writing another book with either these characters or at least set in Vegas. It will make a nice counterpoint to the New Orleans based series, give Remi and Mano a chance to stretch their influence and give readers a new setting and great new cast of characters.
This is a good crime and suspense story with a little bit of romance to offset things. There’s a pretty gritty undertone and there’s no shortage of violence, corruption and greed (and stupidity when it comes to greed). By the end of the book, there’s a pretty high body count and one of the protagonists is a contract killer with a fair bit of blood on her hands. Despite that (or maybe because of that) it was a fun read and a very welcome addition to Ms. Vali’s bad girl oeuvre.
Recommended especially if you liked the Cain series