Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Mind Games

Mind Games
Carolyn Crane

Urban Fantasy
Disillusionist Trilogy/Book 1

Spectra/March 2010


From the back cover ~


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 get 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, are 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.

Unique. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think of the world of Justine Jones. As a heroine in a fight, she wouldn't be my first choice. Nor my second. Odd is another word that comes to mind. She's such an odd choice for a UF heroine. She's not savvy in martial arts. Or weapons, even though she's carrying a wicked blade on the cover. Justine is more of a covert heroine. The bad guys don't even know she's the enemy, that she there to take them down. Instead, they welcome her into their homes, into their lives without realizing how dangerous she really is. That's the beauty of Justine Jones.

So how does the average woman become an instrument for justice? I have no idea and neither does Justine because she's so not average. Her hypochondriac existence has taken over her life until she is just one brick(ha ha) shy of losing it completely. Justine has an overwhelming fear of head injuries, specifically anything that might cause an aneurysm and bring on the dreaded "Vein Star Syndrome". The arrival of the deadly Brick Slinger only heights Justine's fears.

Justine is given the opportunity to use her phobia in a positive way. To have that phobia losen it's hold on her is an opportunity she takes, thinking she can always change her mind. After experiencing the powerful high that comes after a "zing" it's nearly impossible for Justine to go back to her old life. This is the brutal truth that junkies discover and in a way, Justine becomes a sort of junkie for the freedom the zing offers. She's free of her phobia, free to pretend to be normal. But it's all just an illusion. Justine can't go back to her old life. She's smart enough to realize it and instead decides to learn everything she can about being a disillusionist and about her boss, Packard.

Packard is the catalyst and he recruits what I began thinking of as the "phobic fighting league". He brings them into his world of delivering justice. He is a mystery to Justine and to the reader. Is he really a good guy or does he have a secret agenda? Or both? I knew Packard was up to something from the start. He's full of secrets and half truths. What I wasn't sure about were his motives. If they were totally selfish or if he really did care about his employees and clients. Was he solely in it for the money or for his unique type of justice. I liked the way we got to see the sides of Packard from the people who knew him or at least thought they knew him. Justine also spends a considerable amount of time with him but is still left with many questions about who he really is. Packard's motives remained in question throughout the book. He's smart and powerful but still seriously flawed.

The story revolves around the group of disillusionists employed by Packard. They are a eclectic group of people with a variety of abilities. Most are very loyal to Packard. He saved them and gave them a purpose. A few are there strictly for the job and the high they get when giving that "zing". The zing is the euphoria that comes after the release of their phobia on the target. It's a physical as well as a mental high that the disillusionist feels. For a time they are free from their phobia, freed from the thing that plagues them. The high eventually wears off and the need to "zing" hits. I liked the whole premise of using the mind or minds in this case, as weapons. Sure, most UF protags are smart but they use guns, blades or magic when fighting. Justine and the gang use their phobias, projecting them onto the targets until the targets believe they are truly inflicted with the disease, the bad habit etc. The disillusionists work this intricate con to get close to the target. It's a very different method of attack. What I wasn't crazy about was Packard and having this one man deciding who the acceptable targets are. He has set himself up with absolute power with no one seemingly strong enough to question him. That's scary and Justine knows it. It's why she continues to question him and his motives. I liked her for that. No blindly following the master here.

There is another power in the mix. The police chief of Midcity is out to clean up the crime element. He's determined to bring down the Brick Slinger and make the city safe again. I got such a kick out of Justine's hero worship of the police chief. She was like a teenager going ga-ga over a pop star. If anyone dared to question the chief's abilities, Justine was there to set them straight. This fixation she had with the police chief gave Justine an element of normalcy. She's so out there with her hypochondria that a crush on the handsome police chief made her seem more relatable. Which helped because Justin isn't easy to relate to. The story is told from her POV, in present tense. Some readers may not be crazy about that but it wasn't any problem for me. There's still more layers to explore and more growing for her to do.

There are a number of things going on under the surface of Midcity, not everyone or everything is what it seems. The mystery surround Packard and his past. The oddities of the restaurant, Mongolian Delites, where Packard holds court. The Brick Slinger. Who the hell throws bricks as a method of killing? The high-caps, with their scary and powerful mental abilities. Add in Justine's crazy-ass, silver wearing, sex starved target and you have both a fascinating and bizarre world that Crane has created.

This is the first book in a trilogy so not all questions are answered and the story of Justine, Packard and crew is far from over. There is also, for me, the question of a hero and if there even is one in Mind Games. I think I've gotten so used to there being a hero or at the least the form of "designated hero" that the fact there really wasn't one in Mind Games threw me a bit. We have Justine as the somewhat reluctant heroine but Packard as the hero just doesn't work for me. I found him interesting but didn't really like him, mainly because I didn't trust him. So I am curious to see where he goes from here and if I will like him in the next book. I really felt like we only touched the surface and there is much more coming our way in the next two installments.

Rating: B+/A- (for overall story/for unique premise)

*Disclosure* I do want to mention that many of you know author Carolyn Crane as Carolyn Jean aka CJ from the blog The Thrillionth Page. I've been visiting CJ's blog for a while now and have enjoyed her posts and getting to know her online. I say this because it was a bit odd (there's that word again) to read a book written by someone I "know" from the web. I read Mind Games a while ago but have had a bit of a difficult time writing the review. I kept going back and editing, trying to make sure I got it right. Nervous. :)


  1. Leslie, that's a great grade! I didn't read the review, but I did skim it because well... I started the book, got interrupted (my daughter's surgery) and didn't get back to the book yet. I was having such fun reading the first 9 chapters though and wanted to give it my time and attention -- at this point I might have to just start it from the beginning though.

    I love your disclosure. I was nervous reading it, never mind reviewing it -- love that CJ woman. :D I hope to get to it soon.

  2. Hils ~ Awe, kids come first, even when they're big kids. Hope she's doing well.

    LOL - CJ is certainly unique! Just like her writing. :)

  3. You've seen to be reading some very good books lately, Leslie :D Another very good review :)

    Indeed, Justine sounds very special and different... which is probably a good thing :) so, I guess there's not much romance so far, right?

  4. Nath ~ the good books are due to great reviews from other bloggers. :)

    Hmmm… romance, not exactly. But sort of. LOL I can’t really say w/o giving away spoilers. Check your email. :)