Thursday, January 21, 2016

Best Caper Espionage, in HIGH-CALIBER CONCEALER, Bethany Maines #3

Women have been hiding their skills from their boyfriends for generations. It's called flirting. But when high-ranking Carrie Mae covert agent Nikki Lanier finds herself getting serious -- as in, living together, maybe long term -- with CIA agent Z'ev Coralles, she's got more to hide than her firearm skills. Just as she comes close to seizing a major drug dealer, she's got to back off for Z'ev's own take on the sting operation underway. And after all, even the CIA doesn't realize what the Carrie Mae makeup company really is: dead serious about helping women in the most competent and permanent ways. And dangerous. (Did I mention firearm skills?)

So it's a good thing in HIGH-CALIBER CONCEALER that Nikki's entire team is the corporate equivalent of grounded: laid off for two weeks, as a penalty for killing a bad guy without the right approval, while Nikki was out of the country.

Bumped into her own reluctant vacation, Nikki heads for her grandmother's farm near the Canada border, the place where Nikki grew up, loved and smart but almost dumbed down ... until Carrie Mae recruited her, years back, and set her onto a growth path where she thrives.

One easy revelation turns out to be firearm skills, after all: Nikki's grandmother, adapting to the times, has her own handgun and wants Nikki to catch up. Much more challenging is the rapid shift of who's in which rooms at the old farm, as not only Z'ev but also Nikki's team of Jane, Jenny, and Ellen land in the midst of what looks like a classic DEA operation gone wrong, surrounding the old home place and pitting Nikki's loyalties in several directions at once. And, oh yes, her mother pulls in, too.
"Well, this seems to be going well," said Jane carrying a stack of plates.

Nikki stared at her in disbelief. Sometimes she thought Jane existed in a parallel universe. "My mother is offering to show my boyfriend my junior high photos. Jenny is draped over my ex-boyfriend, which would be a lot less annoying if he didn't look so happy about it. And Ellen and my grandmother are attempting to discuss ammunition using mime, since they don't want my mother to notice."

"I know! It was adorable."
Good thing somebody's having fun, because Nikki's choices are rapidly narrowing. Oh, she'll stop the drug operation -- that's the easy part. But managing her family issues, especially once the family secrets start coming out (including a big one she didn't know about), is much tougher. And what happens to her romance if she's got to take charge, as she's been trained to do so well?

The first Carrie Mae spy-plus-spoof action novel that Bethany Maines brought out was Bulletproof Mascara, with Nikki's rocky road through being recruited and trained; then Compact With the Devil caused some dangerous side-effects of laughing too hard while reading in bed (as in, irritable husband syndrome -- but those elephant issues, how could I help it?); this third Nikki Lanier adventure, with a tamer crime situation but a much tougher management conundrum, may be the funniest yet. And it's clear from the finale that there's a fourth title coming soon (Glossed Cause -- one chapter included as a teaser).

If you've ever wondered what would have happened if James Bond and, more importantly, Q himself had been born savvy women ... here's the answer. But much, much funnier.

Enjoying Tim Hallinan's Junior Bender series? Have a hidden stash of Donald Westlake's caper mysteries? Love to tackle a good spoof on Sherlock Holmes?

This one's better. Write to me when you've read all three. Yes, they'll be best if you start with the first book. But if you're impatient, dig right into HIGH-CALIBER CONCEALER and then get the others underway. Available at online retailers, or order them through the local bookstore, or have the fun of getting yours signed, directly from the Tacoma, Washington-native author:

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