Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book Review: "The Best Bad Things" by Katrina Carrasco

This book takes you on a wild ride, with a protagonist unlike any other.

Alma Rosales is a detective, trained by the famed Pinkerton Agency. That's pretty unusual for a woman in the 1880s. But the thing is, Alma isn't all that interested in playing by the rules. She doesn't respond too well to authority, she has (more than) a bit of a violent streak, and she likes dressing up as a man to go undercover. None of this sits well with the Pinkertons, who dismiss her.

Now Alma works for Delphine, who runs a smuggling ring—and who happens to be Alma's occasional lover. On the hunt for stolen opium, Alma figures the only way to find the criminal is to go undercover. So she pretends to be Jack Camp, a dockworker, and she figures that by befriending the local boys and getting in with the crew, she'll be able to unmask the criminal. If only it were that easy...

The deeper Alma ingratiates herself (as Jack), the more she finds it hard to keep her wits about her and remember to whom she's told what lies. She's also playing both ends against the middle in the romance department as well, and Delphine in particular doesn't take that too well. With the Pinkertons circling, Alma needs to marshal all of her strengths in order to kick ass and take names—or she could die trying.

There are a lot of twists and turns and double-crosses in The Best Bad Things, so I'll keep my plot summary fairly vague. Suffice it to say, Alma is one of the most fascinating characters I've read about in a long time. I'm loving the recent trend toward gender-fluid characters and characters whose sexuality isn't the defining trait, but it's not so much the norm when books take place outside of present-day.

But as fascinating a character as she was, I didn't like her very much. She really had a mean streak and I couldn't determine what its origin was, but it made it difficult to sympathize with her. I'm also not sure that I really bought the whole cross-dressing thing—I just kept waiting for it to all fall apart. There are some intense sex scenes in the book, some which were tinged with violence, so that may be a trigger for some folks. The book also jumps around a lot, so the story and the timing of certain things became confusing from time to time. It was interesting to learn about the crime that took place in Washington in the late 1880s, and to see the myriad roles women played in such a lawless society.

Even with its flaws, this was a really interesting book. I hope more authors take risks like Katrina Carrasco did her, and create unique characters that defy stereotypes and aren't above some occasional ass-kicking.

NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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