MIND GAMES by Carolyn Crane
jacket flap blurb
Justine knows she’s going to die. Any second now.
Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she’s convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine’s soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. With a little of Packard’s hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity’s worst criminals, and finally getting the freedom from fear she’s always craved. End of problem.
Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing police chief is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine’s first missions, including one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, and thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into a world of wizardry, eroticism, and cosmic secrets. With Packard’s help, Justine has freed herself from her madness—only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone’s worst fears.
The characterization in this book is amazing. Basically, Packard runs this underground vigilante-type group not unlike the group in the TV show Leverage in way of operating. Clients come to them and pay them to “disillusion” criminals who have harmed them. This involves the group members using their neuroses to break down the target, and then allow them to build themselves back up as good people. Rehabilitation.
In this book, the first in a series, these jobs are their own subplots. And they make for some interesting character development. The main, overarching problem is Packard and his nemesis. That’s right, “nemesis.”
Eight years ago, Packard was running the criminal underground in Midcity.
Eight years ago, Packard’s nemesis—a powerful, force-field-wielding, kills-with-a-thought-ing “highcap” (X-men like mutant) named Henji—trapped Packard in a crappy restaurant called Mongolian Delites using a force-field. His signature, a weird-looking face, is carved on the door.
Eight years ago, a massive crime-wave hit Midcity following Packard’s imprisonment.
Eight years ago, Otto Sanchez was made police chief.
Sanchez is a minor character who is mentioned many times over the first half or possibly two-thirds of the book. Then he comes into the main storyline in an unexpected fashion.
Meanwhile, Justine, who’s falling in love with Packard, is determined to track down Henji and find away to free Packard. It’s a search she gets into with another of the group members, Shelby. It eventually involves a group member named Simon. While Justine gets along with Shelby, she doesn’t get along with Simon. But their relationship changes over the story. Simon is not evil and neither is Simon going down the love-interest-to-be road. But I think eventually, Justine and Simon will be friends. By the end of the book, they’ve gone from semi-enemies to willing associates.
Other important characters include Carter, Helmut, and Cubby. Carter and Helmut are with Packard’s group. Cubby is the other attraction referenced on the jacket-flap. Justine was with Cubby from before she met Packard, and her relationship with him was falling apart. He was increasingly unable or unwilling to accept Justine’s hypochondria, and Justine was not willing to let him go. She has a long-standing desire to be “normal.” She admires, longs for, a normal life with someone like Cubby.
While in some ways this book could be seen as a love-triangle, that wasn’t how I read it. I felt that Justine was clinging to Cubby in the hopes that she could eventually transform into the normal person she dreams about. The person she thinks would fit perfectly with Cubby. But eventually, she comes to realize that it’s not going to happen. She has no future with Cubby. And it’s not that there’s something wrong with Cubby (admittedly, I didn’t like him, but I didn’t hate him or even vehemently dislike him either), it’s just that he and Justine don’t fit.
There’s a lot of this characters-are-not-black-or-white in the book, which I really enjoyed. Even Henji isn’t completely evil, as Packard isn’t completely good. He has some selfishness in him, too. Just like all of them. They all have problems that go beyond their neuroses. Things they deal with that make them less than perfect in a realistic, relatable way.
My only real problem with the book was Justine’s relationship with Chief Sanchez. By the end of the book, there was a definite love-triangle playing out between Justine, Packard, and Sanchez. And while I think it has been well-written so far, I dislike love triangles and I’m worried about how the author will resolve it.
rating out of five stars