(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes JUN 13, 2008)
In the year 2066, United States is gone, Balkanized into smaller countries, each with its own flavor and dangers. Blackjack, a post-apocalyptic thriller, features Rica Marin, a beautiful and talented woman who knows how to fight. She travels the former US from coast to coast, working as a mercenary to keep her and her grandmother back home in Redwood supplied with "vax" against the plagues. As the story opens, she's driving her fast, but beat up car, Electra, to Sierra across rough terrain, trying to avoid the huggers, toxies, godders and bandits. The Chief of Sierra suspects the Colemans, an influential family and owners of the Blackjack casino, of skimming funds--and worse--seeking control of Tahoe and all of Sierra.
Rica goes undercover as a torch singer and waitress at Blackjack to spy on the owners, Judith and Jo Coleman. On her first night there, an odd bunch of armed marauders raid Blackjack. Rica must ignore her instincts and lay low. Most lounge singers and waitresses don't know how to fight, and don't have a laser pistol in their boot.
The intrigue and suspense build in Blackjack through to the end. The slimy rival casino owner, Newt Scorsi, who hired Rica through the Chief, withholds important information, making her situation even more dangerous. She doesn't know who she can trust. And the Mayor of Tahoe was murdered before Rica arrived. Were the Coleman's capable of murder, too?
"I opened my mouth to tell [Newt] to go to hell, thought better of it, and took a breath. No point in arguing with him, no point in asking him why he didn't trust me. I'm a merc. Judging by the crew that raided Blackjack, his experience with mercs could not have been reassuring. So aside from his probably having a congenital trust deficit, to be fair, he had reason to be careful. And there was a much bigger issue here.
Consolidation. A big country. Big trouble all over the place. Rocky pushing for population on one side, the Colemans building an empire on the other. If any of this was true, it needed to stop. I liked things the way they were. Liked my life the way it was. Well, mostly."
Rica quickly confirms the existence of the Colemans' sizeable, secret army. Rica must decide whether to throw in with the Colemans to protect Sierra and its neighbor, Redwood from Rockymountain, or get the intelligence needed to save Tahoe and Sierra from the Colemans. To make her choice more difficult, she's attracted to Jo and the general of their army, Samm Bakar.
Jo Coleman uses everyone around her for the family's political gain. She struggles with the ineffectiveness of her spies, how much she can use her sister's kids who are suddenly grown up, what to expect from the Scorsis and what to do with the beautiful and alluring lounge singer, Rica Marin, who may be more than just the new girl.
Singer weaves an intricate tale of intrigue with plot twists and suspense around every corner. Her characters are well-rounded and interesting, the world-building rich and plausible. Her insightful portrayal of the effects of war, plague and disaster on humans and their ability to adapt, sometimes in horrible ways, takes an otherwise run of the mill thriller or science fiction novel to new depths.
Blackjack crosses genre borders effectively. It's all at once, an unpredictable mystery, a tension-filled thriller and a sociologically satisfying science fiction novel. Singer, as Shelley Singer has written numerous mysteries that evince her talent in that genre. With Blackjack, she proves herself master of so much more.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Blackjack at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Rica Marin series:
- Blackjack (June 2007)
Jake Samson / Rosie Vicente series:
- Samson's Deal (1982)
- Free Draw (1983)
- Full House (1985)
- Spit in the Ocean (1986)
- Suicide King (1987)
- Royal Flush (1999)
Barrett Lake series:
- Following Jane (1993)
- Picture of David (1993)
- Searching for Sara (1994)
- Interview with Mattie (1995)
- The Demeter Flower (1980)
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About the Author:
Shelley (Lee) Singer grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and began her working life as a reporter with UPI in Chicago. During a checkered and mercifully brief journalism career, she met many famous people, at least two of whom were murdered, and many not-so-famous who are still alive.
She has taught fiction writing and has worked one-on-one with writers as a manuscript consultant on nonfiction, literary novels and in every genre from memoir to mystery to science fiction to horror. Several clients and students have gone on to become published authors. She has been cited in the acknowledgments or dedications of several published books, including a number of award-winners.