‘Devil’s Bargain’ introduces us to Jazz Callender as she sits in a seedy bar, getting lost to the bottom of a bottle. Jazz is an ex-cop at the end of her tether – two years ago her partner and best friend, Ben McCarthy, was convicted and imprisoned for murder. Ever since she’s been running a half-assed investigation trying to free him. While sitting in this seedy bar she is approached by a lawyer named James Borden, who represents firm ‘Gabriel, Pike & Laskins’. This firm has a proposition for Jazz – she get’s $100,000 to start up her own Private Investigations firm if she agrees to be partnered with ex-FBI/CIA agent Lucia Garza and the two of them agree to take on the firm’s priority cases, to be delivered in a red envelope.
As the story progresses, it is revealed that Gabriel, Pike & Laskins are funding Jazz and Lucia’s PI firm through ‘The Cross Society’ – and more specifically one man called Max Simms who is currently imprisoned for serial murder. Simms isn’t your typical con though – Max Simms claims that he can predict the future. From his holding cell he feeds his predictions through James Borden, who delivers them to Lucia and Jazz who in turn are making catastrophic changes to the universe by altering the cause of events.
It’s not as good as Caine’s other series. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but ‘Red Letter Days’ definitely falls short.
Maybe it’s the vague genre. ‘Morganville Vampires’ and ‘Weather Warden’ are both firmly Urban Fantasy – and while ‘Red Letter Days’ does have elements of the supernatural with its psychic storyline, the crime mystery elements kind of outweigh the paranormal, leaving the books in a strange genre limbo.
‘Devil’s Bargain’ is told from Jazz’s perspective. ‘Devil’s Due’ from Lucia’s. The narration change is a little jarring, but as the story progresses in ‘Due’ you realize a change-up in narration was integral to plot pace.
One trademark in all of Caine’s series is a strong romantic element. In all of her series Caine likes to pair her leading ladies up with their soul mates, and ‘Red Letter Days’ is no different. Jazz’s leading man is lawyer James Borden. Lucia’s honey is Ben McCarthy, Jazz’s ex police partner who was wrongly convicted of murder.
I didn’t really feel the heat between James Borden and Jazz. There’s lots of lingering looks and naked speculation, but their romance didn’t spark the same way Caine’s other couples have – James & Jazz didn’t have the same chemistry as Claire & Shane (Morganville Vampires) or Jo & David (Weather Warden). I did like Jazz – she reminded me a little bit of Veronica Mars; a snarky Alpha-female. I preferred Jazz to Lucia (who is a statuesque Latina goddess) and while the narration switch aided plot pace, I would have preferred sticking with Jazz.
I felt a little more heat between Lucia & Ben, but they have added intensity by the fact that Ben’s been in prison for 2 years and is a little… eager. Despite that, their relationship is a bit awkward because Jazz & Ben also share a special bond – and there are hints of jealousy.
I was especially disappointed by the romance in both books because I expected some steamy scenes, judging by the publishers. ‘Silhouette Bombshell’ published the books, which was a Harlequin line with the MO of featuring strong heroines in action-packed storylines. Because ‘Silhouette’ was a Harlequin faction I thought romance and steaminess were guaranteed – not the case, unfortunately.
The plot in ‘Devils Bargain’ takes a while to pick up the pace. It’s not until halfway through the book that Jazz and Lucia discover the revelation that they are working for a psychic and carrying out his chaos-theory predictions.
The ‘Red Letter Days’ series also falls short because it feels incomplete. The psychic storyline definitely has a feel of longevity to it, and the series probably would have improved the deeper Caine explored the conspiracy theories. But unfortunately Harlequin’s ‘Silhouette Bombshell’ line was discontinued in 2007. Meaning the series, and Caine’s rights, died along with the book franchise.
I really wanted to love this series. I am a huge Rachel Caine fan; I adore her ‘Weather Warden’ and ‘Morganville Vampires’ series, and assumed that ‘Red Letter Days’ was guaranteed to please. ‘Red Letter Days’ has all the elements I enjoy; a mix of paranormal and mystery. However it just didn’t click for me. I was probably ranking it too harshly against ‘Morganville Vampires’ and ‘Weather Warden’, but how could I not?
Even if you’re a die-hard Caine fan, I probably wouldn’t recommend you bother with this series. It’s definitely not on-par with her other books, and the fact that the series was cut-short by the publisher’s liquidation means you’ll be reading a ‘work in progress’ that will never be completed.