Deep, dark secrets, buried a lifetime ago. Blatant deceptions and little white lies. Intense jealousy and bitter hatred. Paranoia and hysteria, obsessions and compulsions. Crazy, pent-up desire and ecstasy. Loneliness and the depths of despair. The mind is a complex and messed-up place, and author Carolyn Crane makes sure we know it.
Double Cross, the second book in her "Disillusionists Trilogy" (following 2009's Mind Games), runs the gamut of every one of those deliciously-deviant, scary, and trippy emotions and feelings--as well as the resulting actions--in what continues to be an utterly original and entirely entralling spin on the urban fantasy tale.
[Note: If you haven't read Mind Games yet, please read my review of it here, first. Better yet, after reading the review, click the link and get your very own copy of the book. It's good stuff. :)]
Now, to briefly recap where Mind Games left off...
Regular-gal Justine and her other "disillusionist" friends (all of whom suffer from one neurosis or another) managed to free their high-cap (human with a genetic anomaly which manifests in additional mental powers) boss, Packard, from his long imprisonment at the restaurant... but his freedom came at a price: Packard and his crew are now working for Police Chief Otto Sanchez, gradually disillusioning the other high-cap prisoners which Otto has been holding in check for some time by means of his own high-cap abilities.
There are a couple of big problems with this new arrangement. One, the whole business of disillusioning bad people--forcing them to give up their evil ways, then reprogramming them--creates a huge moral dilemma. Where's the element of free will? Shouldn't everyone be allowed the same right to choose his/her path in life, no matter what that path is? Justine, in particular, takes issue with it... even though the practice of disillusioning others is the very thing that allows her to live a mostly-normal life for the first time, free of her own severe hypochondria.
The second problem is that Packard and Otto are enemies and rivals of long-standing. Neither one trusts the other, and again, this puts Justine between a rock and a hard place. (Double entendre alert there, heehee.) Justine works--and still has feelings--for Packard; meanwhile, she's dating Otto, in an on-again, off-again relationship. (You just know that triangle can't end well, right?)
So, when we meet up with our fictional (loosely-based on Chicago) Midcity pals a few months later, there've been some changes. Otto is now Mayor Sanchez, as popular as ever... but his high-cap ability is still a big secret. (Less than half of Midcity's residents believe that high-caps even exist, so Otto doesn't see coming out of the closet as any sort of boon to his career.) On the personal front, Justine and Otto are taking things nice and slow.
That's the good part; now for the bad news. Midcity is under siege by a group of serial killers... or at least, the high-caps are, and the group of people responsible for killing them? They're doing something no other "regular" human has ever done before: they can somehow recognize high-caps on the spot, and are targeting them specifically.
When it rains it pours, of course, and the city is further thrown for a loop when one of Otto's still-imprisoned high-caps figures out how to use her ability to once more invade the dreams of others. Making matters worse, it looks like she's also responsible for sending groups of sleep-walking cannibals out to kill innocent Midcity residents. (Insert teensy break for me to giggle at the sentence I just wrote...)
Are you with me, so far? We have one group killing high-caps with the efficiency of a super-size can of Raid bug spray ("Killz bugz dead", remember?), and another group of sleepwalkers out there, jonesin' for some yummy human flesh. (Midcity. You totally want to move there, don't you?)
And if you'll recall Justine, previously caught between the proverbial rock and hard place? Well, that's where she finds herself again; she and Packard are ensnared together in the dreamcatcher's trap, experiencing each other's deepest, darkest, and most private dreams (including some things they desperately want to keep secret from each other). With Packard having to concern himself with the slightly-more-urgent business of catching the high-cap killers, though, it's up to Justine to figure a way out of the dreamcatcher-cannibal mess.
It's a mad race around Midcity, then, as the crew tries to track down two separate sets of bad guys. It involves the present-day city, which is being terrorized by the high-cap killers and cannibals, plus another version of the city set in the distant past, as it faced unspeakable horrors in what now appears as a confusing, swirling dreamscape of evil. And, in the midst of it all, Justine has to battle with who and what she is and with what she really wants, even while being pulled in all different directions.
There's no easy answer for Justine, or for any of her friends. Right and wrong, good and evil, normal and not normal--all are depicted in various (delicious) shades of grey. As the truth behind the secrets, lies, fears, and obsessions slowly emerges, Justine discovers that nothing is what she thought it was.
The question, now, is whether Justine can manage to save herself ... or if the bad things trying to pull her under will, in the end, prove too strong for her to resist.
Double Cross is one of those books I've really been looking forward to, and it doesn't disappoint. The premise--that regular people may/may not have these latent, very-special mental abilities--is an irresistible one, and the execution--showing that appearances can be deceiving, and that nothing in life is all black or white--is superbly realized. Crane has a flair for snappy dialogue and humor, and she's given us a nifty hodgepodge of messed-up, neurotic characters to do the interacting (just the sort of oddballs I always find so interesting in real life, actually). She avoids unnecessary filler, and seamlessly integrates the key plot points of the previous book into this one. She's also adept at creating not only visual but visceral psychological spaces; much of the emotional and scary stuff takes place solely within the confines of the mind, so it's imperative that we not just envision it, but that we also feel it and breathe it... and in Crane's capable hands, we do. :)
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Mousies!
Addendum: *headsmack* Doh! Bad kitty, bad! I almost forgot to thank Ms. Crane for the peachy-keen opportunity to win a spiffy ARC of this book (yes, the one I enjoyed so much!). Can we chalk my negligence down to excitement? :)