Dirty Money – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

I usually hate the second books of trilogies. They lack the
excitement and wonder of the first, maintaining a holding pattern and, more
often than not, fracturing the narrative with little reward. And just when they
get their own head of steam going, they’re done. They’re bridges. Transitions.
But even though Ashley Bartlett’s Dirty Money is the transitional book
between Dirty Sex and Dirty Power, due out next month, it breaks
all of the above rules. And then some.

Vivian Cooper (or just Cooper, thanks very much) is best
friends with Ryan DiGiovanni; however she’s in love with his sister, Reese.
When she’s not hating her. And they do indeed hate each other like only two
women meant to be together can. To complicate matters, the DiGiovanni’s are
mobsters. Cooper and Ryan and Reese steal some gold bars from the Syndicate and
run away to Mexico. But that locale proves to be even less of a refuge than it
usually does. When the gold and the twins disappear, Cooper goes underground to
work for the mob boss for information. And she gets it.

Bartlett’s prose kills. It’s a lethal, whipcrack weapon,
studded with barbs and steeped in acid-etched sarcasm. Cooper (who, I suspect,
is only millimeters removed from Bartlett herself) has a wonderful voice and is
a perfect narrator, at once stupid and wise, innocent and world-weary, and
totally in love with Reese.

Equally at home setting a scene in a Mexican cantina, a mob
boss’s apartment, or a warehouse torture segment, Bartlett has exquisite taste
when it comes to selecting the right detail. And no matter how much plot she
has to get through, she never rushes the game. Her writing is so well-paced and
so self-assured, she should be twice as old as she really is. That self-assuredness
also mirrors through to her characters, who are fully realized and totally
believable.

But this is Cooper’s story, and Bartlett never drops the
stitch once. No author intrusion, no false moves, no poorly-motivated
decisions—and as a result, by the time you’re half way through the book, you
absolutely know how Cooper will react to any given situation. That’s how to
draw a character. To watch Cooper head up a marijuana harvesting operation in
Mexico, to torture the family’s enemies with her mentor Esau (then go out for
Thai food afterward), or to have her heart broken by Reese is to understand the
amazing human condition we’re all part of. And the contradictions we’re all
capable of.

Does Dirty Money stand alone, then? Well, yes and no.
In terms of plot, there’s nothing in the first book that can’t be extrapolated
from the information given here, so what I said in the introduction here still
stands. However, my advice is to go back and read Dirty Sex anyway, just
to bask in the glow of a wonderful character written with intelligence, verve,
and absolute surety.

Don’t stop at three, Ash. Please?

©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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