Life as a bodyguard and driver for the rich, famous, and powerful is dangerous on a good day, and after sustaining a crippling injury while on duty, Janette’s left with few options. Having signed a ‘for life’ contract but unable to work, she uses her skills to disappear. Her new life as a librarian suits her. Nobody cares she limps and sometimes requires a cane to walk. She’s wanted for her knowledge, not her lethal magic. She’s surrounded by books, a woman’s best friend. But when her former employer’s best friend is murdered on the steps of her library, old loyalties and secrets might destroy her – or set her free. Teaming up with her co-workers to find the killer might keep her from being booked for murder, but unless she’s careful, she’ll find out exactly how far her ex-boss will go to reclaim what is rightfully his. Her. For life.
Read: November 2021
Review: 1 star out of 5
Usually my worst reads originate from places where the books are cheap or free, since lower prices make me more willing to take the risk. Booked for Murder is not one such book. I spent a whole $15 Libro credit on it. Do I regret it? Yes. But is that loss mitigated by my chance to vent on this blog? Absolutely.
In case you haven’t surmised from the title, Booked for Murder is about a magical murder – the murder of a senator, to be specific. Should be at least a little bit interesting, right? Oh, if only. There are too many things wrong with this book for it to be even remotely considered passable.
So where do I even start?
The first problem is Janette herself, which is doubly unfortunate since she narrates the book in first-person. Blain tries to depict Janette as this perfect person who is amazing at everything; both in spite of and because of this, Janette is unlikable. I tired quickly of everyone, including Janette herself, rambling about how amazing she is – about how magically talented she is, how clever she is, how sweet she is. Like, congratulations, you figured out via testing on cattle that you can shoot blood a million feet or whatever. Are you proud of your animal cruelty? Janette is so powerful that in order to hide from her boss (whom she obnoxiously calls her “ex-boss” throughout the book even well after readers discover that she is on a first-name basis with the guy), she had to fake having a low magical capacity because her real one is so phenomenally high.
It’s normal to admire someone for their gifts and qualities, but everyone’s appreciation of Janette’s talents errs egregiously into the territory of abject fawning. What exacerbates my irritation, though, is that for as much as everyone effusively gushes over Janette, that lionization doesn’t seem earned to me. Supposedly Janette is so smart that she can hack into police files in just a few minutes and leave almost no trace, but she’s not clever enough to realize that hiding in the same city as Bradley, changing her last name, and wearing glasses like some Perry the Platypus knockoff bullshit will not ultimately conceal her effectively. The author attempts to portray Janette as jocular, but her jokes are awkward and often carried on to the point where a listener questions whether she’s serious. (I kid you not, she spends a whole minute joking about setting politicians – the people she and her group are ostensibly trying to save – on fire, even after it’s become clear that the joke has exhausted its welcome.) But congratulations, bitch, because being a talented store-brand bloodbender who can shoot bovine blood a gajillion meters away apparently compensates for your insipid personality. The only things I can appreciate about Janette are her love for her cat (whom she rescued as a kitten) and her love of books, but that’s not enough to outweigh everything I can’t stand about her.
Really, almost every character is either annoying, straight-up bizarre, or both. Like, the head librarian of the New York Library is randomly and conveniently also mortician or some shit. Bradley’s mom is almost as imperious as her son is, and she thinks it’s cool to “take in” a Black girl as a child and then employ her as a maid, and then adopt her after she’s become an adult. (Author lady, if Jezabela is supposed to be your Black rep, maybe don’t make your only explicitly Black character be a fucking maid.) Janette’s dad is weirdly, creepily obsessed with punishing her with the switch. He rambles about it for minutes at a time. And after not seeing or hearing from Janette for three years, her parents see fit to remark that her cat is an acceptable temporary substitute for grandchildren. Can you imagine being reunited with your child after three years and grousing about how bummed you are that they haven’t popped out grandchildren, let alone shacked up with somebody? Yeah, me neither.
And then there’s Bradley. We the readers are supposed to root for Janette and Bradley to at last admit their feelings for one another and bang it out, but few love interests who are unworthier than this entitled little scum nugget come to mind. This scuzzball thinks he owns the damn world and can do whatever the fuck he wants because he has money and (supposedly) is hot. He is possessive even for a guy who holds a woman’s indentured servitude contract (yeah, we’ll get to that later). He insists on doing everything for Janette, an importunity that breaches the threshold of pesky to lodge itself firmly into creepy territory. Bradley might not make all of Janette’s decisions for her, but he certainly seems that he’d like to. Various controlling behaviors of Bradley’s are excused under the pretense of pampering or doting on Janette. Clearly he has no reservations about telling HIPPA to go fuck itself, snooping through her medical records, or making appointments for her, because that’s exactly what he does. I don’t care if that’s normal for the world they live in; it’s still eerie. These aren’t the only instances of blatant overreach on Bradley’s part; there are so many that I can’t pick many more off the top of my head. What I can tell you is that like half of my notes consist of comments like “What a shithead” and “You fucking pompous iguana,” and you can bet that those are all about Bradley. I know I just spent a gigantic chunk of this review complaining about how simultaneously boring and weird Janette is, but even I think she deserves better than this self-absorbed, toxic-masculinity-riddled asshole. Get the hell out of here, Bradley, you’re not fooling me with your “I’m friends with a eugenicist but I disagree with him” claptrap.
The rest of this book is… I just hate it. Everything is too similar to the real world, and none of the things that set the book’s universe apart from the real world are charming or enchanting or even interesting. The magic system is horrendously bland. I’m also disturbed by how casually the so-called “for-life contracts” are treated. It’s one thing to write your character as accepting of obviously morally reprehensible practices for the sake of the story. But usually when an author crafts a world with a patent injustice baked into it, the voice typically expresses some kind of condemnation for that injustice, even if the characters endorse the abhorrent behavior. I did not pick up that vibe in this book. I’m not saying that the author is pro-slavery/-indenture, just that the narration doesn’t seem to hold the expected tacit remonstrance. Maybe I just wasn’t paying sufficient attention to pick that up, but the notion that my attention might have strayed so seriously is another testament to how good this book isn’t. But how could I possibly be interested when the dialogue frequently runs off on tangents such as how the tax structure of the investigative cell works. (By the way, dear book characters, if your investigative cell has tax laws it needs to follow, it’s probably sanctioned by law; therefore, you are not vigilantes.)
Aside from the presence of a cat, the other thing this book has going for it is physically disabled character representation via the main character, but let’s be honest: You can find solid disabled character representation and lovable characters, an entertaining plot, and an interesting world in the Aurora Cycle. Don’t waste your time with this book.