When a book is named for a scheme to rate pain from insect stings, you know it's not going to be a feel-good kind of read. C.S. O'Cinneide delivers the kind of book you'd expect from that title and readers are the beneficiaries.
Candace Starr is the daughter of a hitman who followed in her father's footsteps. She spent a few years in prison, and now released, she's trying to retire. Her days are full of drinking, sleeping with anyone handy, drinking some more and then occasionally manning the till in the convenience store below her apartment.
But her name is still out there (among people who know hired killers, anyway), and a potential client approaches her wanting her daughter's boyfriend (a low-life drug dealer/user) eliminated. But Candace is trying to retire and the target it seventeen. And that's just not something she can do.
But someone kills him and Candace is worried that she'll be a suspect (for fairly obvious reasons). So when homicide detective Chien-Shiung Malone asks her to consult for the investigation—she takes the opportunity (Malone offering information about her father's killer doesn't hurt).
Candace is smart, acerbic and tries really hard to be apathetic. Malone is smart, driven, and tough. Put the two of them together and you've got a great combination—this is definitely the beginning of a beautiful friendship (assuming they live that long)—emphasis on "beginning." I thoroughly enjoyed watching the interplay between the two and the establishment of their relationship.
We also meet a few other cops—some seem pretty cool, others are focused on bringing Candace down (whether she's guilty of whatever they're suspecting her for). Not to mention people from Candace's world—bartenders, waitresses, other hitmen, Candace's surrogate family, and biker gangs. Candace is starting to not fit into their world as much as it's clear that she doesn't belong in Malone's. In between are friends, classmates, parents of the victim and other associates. There's a lot of pain and suffering (in various forms) going on with every character we encounter.
The hunt for the killer has more than the requisite twists and turns—and by the time the true villains behind everything are exposed, I was surprised. I was kind of write with one of my theories, but even then I was wrong—and even more wrong about all the details that were revealed in the closing pages. O'Cinneide's plotting—and the reveal it all led up to—were rock solid and as intricate as you could hope for.
It's a fun ride, a clever read, and Candace's perspective on crime, family, and loyalty make this a high-spirited read. I'm struggling (and failing) to come up with a way to describe the gritty, but entertaining; dark, but not oppressive; witty, without being facetious feel to this book. Candace (and her voice) is sort of a hybrid of Huang's Cas Russell, Ford's Teagan Frost, and Rucka's Dex Parios (without the superpowers or super-genius abilities). And even as I write that, I can see the problems with the comparisons. That's as good as it gets for now. Undoubtedly, about 20 minutes after this posts, I'll hit on the way I should've said it. Hopefully, this is enough of a flavor to tempt you to take a look at this book.
Not only did I enjoy this rollicking ride, I am definitely coming back for the promised sequel. Based on how things turned out here, it is going to be a completely different kind of story, and I'm really curious to see how O'Cinneide is going to tackle it—and hopefully a few more sequels after that. There's a great kind of chemistry at work in The Starr Sting Scale and I encourage you to sample it.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dundurn Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.