The Gangster's Kiss by Ginger Ring
The Particulars: Historical romance, First in Series, Self-Published, 2016, Available in Digital and Print
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I bought this at the RT Convention Giant Book Fair in Las Vegas 2016. When I'm at conference book signings I try to impulse buy at least one new-to-me author. It's good karma I like to throw out into the universe. Anyway, the cover caught my eye and it's set in the 1920s, so I plunked down $10 to buy a print copy and as they say? No good deed goes unpunished.
The Review: This was not a good book, which is a shame since there are the bones of a good story here. There's even a quick tease of what could have been interesting characters. But none of it is helped by flat writing, a romance that goes from zero to sixty in 3 seconds, and a hot-and-cold running heroine.
John O'Malley's sister, Eryn, is missing. He's working the docks in Chicago, trying to get together the money to find her, when he comes to the aid of a man getting beaten to a pulp by hired goons. Mickey Flynn is so thankful he offers John a job - a job that isn't exactly legal - but it gets him to Wisconsin, which is where he heard his sister might be. The gangster-types in Chicagoland have infiltrated the backwoods counties in Wisconsin, setting up vacation retreats and it being closer in proximity to Canadian booze. John is driving a truck filled with whiskey when he almost runs over a man lying in the middle of the road. It's the local judge, having a heart attack. The judge's son, the local sheriff (cozy!), soon comes upon them and John aids the man in getting his father to a doctor - but it's too late. The judge dies.
Daniel Sullivan is so grateful to John that he offers him a job - protecting his sister Grace, just back from St. Paul. Something Bad happened in St. Paul, so Grace has come running home to Daddy - only now Daddy is dead, her brother seems to be on the take, and The Bad Man she fled St. Paul to get away from is now sniffing around her hometown. Then John is hired to be her bodyguard and life suddenly gets a whole lot sweeter.
Oh how I wanted to love Grace. We meet her when she's on the train heading home to Wisconsin, hungover after going on a bender to forget her troubles. We also find out during this time that she essentially ran away from home because she didn't want to shrivel up and die in her tiny home town and she did away with her pesky virginity while playing flapper in St. Paul. So I'm liking this girl already. Instead the author then morphs her into someone who is supposedly "shy" and that's misconstrued by the locals as her being "stuck up" so Grace has no friends (boo hoo). Oh, and she's the best darn cook ever! Because of course she is. One minute she's mooning over John, the next she's all feisty and fiery with him. Hot for him one minute, cold the next. What my grandmother would call "sassy" and not in a good way. To give you some illustration of how problematic this girl is - she confesses to John that she left St. Paul after she witnessed three murders and after she spills out this shocking tale (she's drunk - because of course) - she comes on to him. Then she begs him to sleep with her (as in, share her bed not...you know...) and when she wakes up the next morning she has no memory of spilling her guts to him.
Can we just shoot her now and beat the Christmas rush?
John is an OK sort, but he's the kind of guy who magically falls into things - including any clues he may get about his sister's whereabouts. He's also fantastically stupid about his friend Mickey Flynn who is hiding something - and it's not a huge leap to guess what that something is.
I'm kind of glad I didn't DNF this because there's a twist towards the end that spurs us on to the conclusion. It's a common device pulled from the Soap Opera Bag O' Tricks, but it's at least interesting. Unfortunately the writing itself is wooden and could have benefited from, at the very least, a ruthless critique partner. The history itself was OK some of the time, but there are some doozies. Al Capone overseeing the loading of trucks with alcohol in 1928 even if it was backwoods Wisconsin where the law is on the take strains the seams considerably. And the use of the term "club fed" raised my eyebrows so high I think a light bulb singed off some hair (for those that don't know "club fed" is a pun for "Club Med," which didn't exist until 1950 and hello, Wikipedia is your friend people!)
And yet, here I sit thinking about the second book in the series, The Gangster's Woman because Mickey Flynn is the hero and he takes up the task of finding John's sister, Eryn. So apparently John decides to just, oh not pursue that search anymore now that he's found twu luv with Grace. Ugh, whatever dude. Seriously Wendy, do not read the second book. You didn't like this one. It's OK to never know where Eryn disappeared to and what happened to her. Just say no.
Final Grade = D