PLEASE NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD! Some of the spoilers refer to the first book in the series. If you prefer to avoid spoilers, you might not want to read this review until after you have read the book(s).
Dear Ms. Crane,
Between not having realized that Janine Ballard wrote a fabulous review of Mind Games, and frankly, not paying attention to release dates, I read both Mind Games and Double Cross back-to-back in a few days. I agree with Janine that the language and worldbuilding in the first book are exciting, and am happy to say that Double Cross is no slouch in this regard. To quickly put my spin on the first book, I thoroughly enjoyed the high tension level (the scare factor), the worldbuilding and the language, but felt that I had trouble connecting to Packard in particular. That said, I would have given Mind Games a B/B-.
A very brief plot summary: Justine Jones is a severe hypochondriac (she has a special issue with a vascular disease called vein star syndrome) with the unfortunate side effect of ratcheting up her fear to heart-stopping levels. In Mind Games, Justine is discovered by Sterling Packard, a highcap (person with extra-sensory abilities) who teaches Justine to channel her fear into another person by manipulating their energies. Janine did a wonderful job describing the background characterizations, and rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I’ll provide you with this:
Packard's team is a kind of "psychological hit squad" made up of disillusionists, people with psychological disorders who channel their own problems into criminals and thereby "crash" them so that they can then be "rebooted" into better human beings.
At the end of Mind Games the directive has changed. When Double Cross begins, Packard’s team is working for Otto Sanchez, the mayor of Midcity. Otto is a highcap and a hypochondriac with the same exact issue as Justine, and fears that the mental energy he’s using to imprison certain highcaps around Midcity will cause a vein star to rupture and kill him. Packard’s team is working to reboot the highcaps to relieve the mental pressure on Otto.
Justine is still heavily conflicted about her work, and constantly questions the motives of both Otto, who has taken it upon himself to imprison people without due process, and Packard, who she depends upon for discerning who is “safe” to zing with her fear. Along with doing dangerous work, Justine is dancing a fine line: she’s quietly dating Otto who she has mentally built into the image of perfection, ergo, the perfect man for her. But she constantly thinks of Packard, and this frustrates and angers her. Beyond Justine’s personal problems, there are the Dorks, a gang that’s targeting and killing highcaps. They’ve figured out a way around the highcap powers and are seemingly bent on gruesome assassination of every highcap they find.
The killers are called Dorks because one of Otto’s decrees, in the week he took office as mayor, was that the city papers can’t give serial killers cool names anymore. The names are pre-chosen, like hurricane names, and kept in a vault to be selected randomly. Privately, Otto told me other D names include Doofus, Dolt and Dickweed
As I noted, Ms. Crane’s wonderful language continues. The hurricane reference is brilliant; it turns the Dorks into a force rather than a joke. Between the scare-the-shit-out-of-me name and the Dorks chosen garb of hooded gray sweatshirts, I was nervous for every highcap that was introduced during the course of the book.
My biggest issue with the book is Justine’s rigid view of Otto as an infallible hero. Otto is massively screwed up (hello…crazy hypochondria? actual vigilante justice?) but Justine overlooks a lot of his peculiarities and isn’t interested in delving into them too deeply for fear of disturbing the perfect image she has. Even when she suspects that all may not be as wonderful as she originally conceived it to be, she allows Otto to push her into the space he’s allotted for her. This is excellent for Otto, but for a UF heroine, I found it to be a bit annoying.
Justine’s relationship with Packard is much more difficult, interesting and exciting. Packard is a total screw up too. Justine is aware of his level of loco, she just can’t figure out why and wants to understand him on a deeper level. Justine is constantly fighting her feelings for Packard because she is mentally tied to him and his ability to see the “safe” zing. She wants to be free of him, and I think part of her craving for freedom is to get away from Packard because he isn’t what she should want. I have an issue here as well: For me, Packard remains an enigma because he revealed so little to Justine throughout the book, and is unwilling to open up to her even though it seems from her point of view that he has strong feelings for her. He hides so much, and I’m unclear as to why all the secrecy is so damn important.
This books is first and foremost Urban Fantasy, and one would assume that looking beyond the relationships would be simple. However, Ms. Crane has woven the triangle neatly into the plot. While I’m not one who looks for triangles, this one is done quite well. I can see Justine’s attraction to both men and her misgivings about both of them, but yes, there are times I want to slap her with a cricket bat. My other issue? The doozy of a cliffhanger. The plot is wonderfully torturous, but due to the rapidity with which things happen toward the end of the book, there are a few loose ends and a massively suspenseful ending which makes me want to HulkSmash. Yeah, I said it. B-