Most years, come November, I’m looking to cleanse my palate after a month of Halloween-related horror book and movie bingeing. I usually turn to crime fiction (even though I find that horror and crime are closely intertwined — but that’s an essay for another day). Today, I’m looking at my first post-Halloween read, a story of Victorian-era opium dealing called The Best Bad Things.
Alma Rosales is a former member of the Pinkerton Agency, an early version of our nation’s F.B.I. Rosales has been dismissed from its ranks following a disastrous mission that left her partner dead. She’s made her way to Port Townsend, a Pacific Northwest hotbed of various illicit activities, particularly drugs and prostitution. She’s there to infiltrate and upend one of the area’s leading opium distribution networks, a move that could go a long way to restore her standing in the Agency.
Jack Camp is a roughhousing dockworker and member of that network — a member with aspirations of being much more than a footsoldier. He’s got a plan to find out who is stealing product from his boss, Nathaniel Wheeler, and to head off the authorities that are sniffing around Wheeler’s operation. If it works, his plan will greatly improve his standing in the organization.
Thing is, Alma Rosales and Jack Camp are the same person.
In Alma Rosales, author Katrina Carrasco has created an unforgettable lead, a walking powder keg of raw emotion whose every move is driven by her appetites for sex, for power, and for violence. Alma is playing two sides in just about every facet of her life, and her ability to maintain control while juggling dual identities and agendas is awe-inspiring.
Carrasco is juggling a lot here, too, and it’s sometimes a little difficult to keep up with the narrative. But hang with it — the tight, often beautiful prose will keep you invested even when the plot is hard to rein in, and Carrasco is eventually able to wrangle her runaway storylines into a satisfying conclusion.
The Best Bad Things is an intricately twisty, immensely enjoyable piece of crime fiction; a debut by a promising novelist worth watching.