R.E. Bradshaw is clearly working to give us the unexpected. Her novel, The Rainey Season, is a macabre thriller that attempts to meld graphic torture, feel good supernatural elements, lesbian relationships, and blockbuster bravado into a cohesive novel – oh, and it also has to fit within a larger series so it must include callbacks to earlier characters and relationships. Tall order? Hell, yes! And in some respects, Bradshaw pulls it off. In some, not so much. But it is still fair to throw R.E. Bradshaw’s name up on the leaderboard along with others in the lesbian fiction genre who are at least trying to move in new directions. The author’s intentions seem to be on target, but some areas of execution were a smidge off. Most noticeably her characterization of the main character, Rainey Bell. More on that later.
The Good: As the resolution approaches, and much of the side issues have been stripped away, the novel moves into a taught, tense rhythm. Rainey Bell is acting very much the HBIC and she pulls it off. In fact, this is the protagonist I wished I’d seen throughout more of the book. The dramatic crime scene depictions – the sights, sounds, confusion, organization – all felt legit and cohesively chaotic.
Bradshaw also captures the slow burn psychological thriller aspects of crime fiction like a pro. Not since Thomas Harris have I so dreaded a baddie. Lechter has some competition for sure.
The author even reaches for some genuinely touching moments toward the end of the novel that do not (I repeat DO NOT) feel uber-noble and expectedly mushy between the lovers in the tale. Bradshaw crafts a pitch perfect interaction between mother and daughter that has the feel and texture of reality without swelling violins and teardrops slowly tracking down faces. Good work, R.E.
Favorite Scene: I have to let my inner comic book nerd out for a moment and admit that, while the gadgetry and Pentagon-level security at the Bell household is ridiculous for a former profiler: I loved the whole Batcave type aspect to the fortress. I image panic rooms and control panels and secret passageways galore and, well, that stuff gets me a bit fired up. Maybe even a swinging bookcase doorway?
Favorite Line: Probably not a line the author would choose as a favorite… but I gotta’ say, I’m kind of with Rex on this one. He gets in Rainey’s face while she is visiting a friend in the hospital and he speaks some harsh truths about Rainey. Keep in mind Rex King is a sworn law officer and has history with Rainey and her controversial past. Had to admit I immediately responded with, “You know, Rex kinda’ has a point here.” Just gave me a chuckle and made me like the weasley cop a little more for his honesty.
Rex was flushed and looking for a fight. “You people don’t think the law applies to you.” Rainey was not in the mood for more of his accusations. “Just give me my weapon and give it a rest for one night, Rex.”
As a Serialized Work: The Rainey Season comes off uneven. The author had to grapple with cramming too much exposition in and a lot of it felt overwhelmingly detailed and insignificant. There is a lot of backstory briefly mentioned with regard to prior cases and characters, and much of it is thrown at the reader by newly introduced characters with whom we have no sense of motivation or history. There is enough exposition to make it clear this is not really a stand alone book. The technique of introducing the backstory is a good one (the race to the crime scene in the opening of the novel)… but there is just too much information Bradshaw needed to establish and it comes out in a rush, which takes some of the drama out of the rescue scene. It also means we don’t even get to any action until about the 15% mark. This is book is HEAVILY serialized, apparently. The story on its own would have been fine, and if a lot of the detailed backstory were trimmed, this book would have worked better.
Readers are savvy. They could read this book and get that there is more to Rainey and her team/family. But the reader is in it for the story contained here. Too much of the tension and complexity depends strongly on knowing backstory. It felt as if the author wanted new readers to “get” the established characters but her novel might have been better served by keeping most of the narrative in the present. Too often conversations hinted strongly at past events and character interactions. I felt Bradshaw could have clued readers in to history and the current state of relationships without spelling it out so laboriously. Alluding to so many prior cases and complications got very confusing very fast. If the info is that important, find a way to spell it out. If it is just a nod to readers of the previous books, don’t be so specific. Those fans will appreciate the nod and wink to their familiar tropes and characters, we don’t need to get it if that’s all it is. It has worked before: Ian Flemming’s James Bond, Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, etc.
Writing: Bradshaw’s world building contains implausibilities and incongruities in character, tone, and message that pile up to create a disjointed reading experience. For example: a blogger stalks a minor crime fighting figure with extreme gusto; and more WTF, everybody seems to care and be reading the blog.
This is a story that ostensibly takes place in the real world but Rainey is surrounded by lesbians or at least uber powerful women in every context.
Rainey is super successful and respected by law enforcement officials while still essentially acting like a swaggering foul-mouthed badass all the time who can only be reigned in by a few friends.
Rainey avoids any real reflection or consequences after Mackie is shot because it just so happens he needed to be in a hospital anyhow and he’d be dead if he hadn’t been. This, more than anything, is the kind of cheat that drives The Worm nuts!! And this particular one is reminiscent of one just like it in The Girl Back Home by the same author. In that novel, our heroines are in a life or death situation and the only way out demands killing a person. But there is an implausible resolution that prevents anybody we care about from having to do anything unpleasant or deal with the repercussions. Frustrating! So, with Rainey, she gets to duck out on any real responsibility for Mackie’s injuries and even gets to feel a bit heroic and self-righteous in the process. Grrrr.
The uneveness of tone and style makes some of the plot points obvious long before they become significant: the gun handling and disassembly in particular. Bradshaw spent so much time belaboring the location and handling of Rainey’s weapon that the frame-up was obvious long before it became a plot point.
***End of Spoiler***
Characters and Implausibility: Rainey seems more like a comic book figure than a person… a mountain of implausibilities and inconsistencies. There is just no way she would function in the real world. She is immature and reckless. No law enforcement agency in the U.S. would associate themselves with her – despite her ability to “get results.” And if they did, it would be a strictly backdoor relationship and she would have signed countless agreements to NEVER, under any circumstances, speak to the press about cases.
Then there is the unexplained unfathomable source of her limitless wealth. Her children live in a fortress with NSA level security measures, yet the author has Rainey pay some obligatory lip service to wanting her children to grow up without fear.
All the good guys in the world love, respect, and protect her. Only the peevish jackasses have a problem with her. She truly is the center of everybody’s world and every character serves to puff up her ego and/or clean up her problems. Rainey is all id-driven ego maniac with nothing but sycophants for an entourage. She bullies and struts, yet when convenient, seems to be written as a good-hearted person who loves her family.
Example: it’s sad that her mentor and near-family member is in the hospital. Rainey’s demonstration of her love for his health is shown by having her tell a near-dead man who is barely conscious, after suffering a heart attack, that she is going to force him into exercising and start monitoring his diet. All I could think was, wow… good timing there, Rainey! Way to show some fucking compassion. I mean the guy is in the a hospital bed for God’s sake – he is probably getting his nutrients from a tube… you really wanna’ lecture him on bacon right now? Oh… and doesn’t he have a wife? Shouldn’t these life decision be between them? But that’s Rainey. She knows it all and is on a crusade to enforce her version of appropriate life choices and behaviors on everybody else – while making some questionable ones herself.
Jesse J. Thoma wrote a bounty hunter story in The Chase, and she used a lighthearted, campy tone throughout and it worked. The problem in The Rainey Season is that Bradshaw’s protagonist belonged in Thoma’s bounty hunter story, not the gritty Criminal Minds-esqe world she’d created for her own book. Rainey Bell’s behavior and flippant attitude were just wildly out of place in the reality Bradshaw created for her other characters. Bradshaw treats Rainey Bell like a mixture of Batman, Kay Scarpetta, and Temperance Brennan (Bones). Throw in some familial issues from Ali Vali’s Devil series and you get the morals, attitudes, and skill sets of Rainey Bell.
And let us not forget Bell’s situational ethics. She threatens, cajoles, jabs at, and condescends to anyone who irritates her. (Even threatening a journalist on camera – with a microphone implantation of the anal variety.) But when reporters enter the perimeter of her fortress and alarms sound, Bell has no problem saying she would kill anyone who threatened her family. Double standard much?
WTF Moments: Okay, with all the implausibilities already listed, I will try to keep this list brief and minimally spoilery: No freaking way the BAU doesn’t react immediately to the desecrated body in Rainey’s backyard because they are tied up with a potential serial rapist. No freaking way is the missing kidnap/torture victim’s father allowed involved in the investigation - credentials or not. No freaking way Rainey Bell gets as much official access to a case that she is so clearly involved in. No freaking way does the FBI, local law enforcement, the BAU, and the victim’s father let Rainey Bell make the decision to provoke the killer by denying him media coverage. Bell herself admits the killer will lash out at the victim, but probably won’t kill her because he needs her around to vent to. I’ve never heard of profilers being so confident in their skills that they will risk that kind of result on a hunch. And I don’t know any law enforcement group that would let one consultant make that call. No freaking way Rex King hadn’t been fired for what he does in this novel and for what is alluded to in previous ones.
A personal WTF moment… Bladen is tortured in this book. Like full-on, medieval, sexual, psychological, endless torture. There are moments where she welcomes death as a release and the reader is repeatedly told (usually via Rainey Bell) that Bladen needs to hold on and fight. I gotta’ admit, I was kinda’ hoping for a little peace for that poor woman. What kind of life does she have to look forward to after this experience?
Pace: The Worm really enjoyed the idea behind the quick cuts in the opening scenes. This was a great way to give some exposition and keep action moving forward (the car scene). But by the twenty-five percent mark I had no idea where the story itself was going. Rainey had accomplished nothing and I wasn’t even sure what she was planning or wanting to do.
Final Thoughts: This novel deserves some comparison to Ali Vali’s Devil series: two women raising small children while one of the women has a very dangerous lifestyle. Vali allows the conflicts and issues to be a part of the tension in the relationship. In this book Katie is sort of a background character who just goes with it. Also, Vali settles on a slightly heightened reality and stays with that tone throughout. Bradshaw jumps between heightened suspension of disbelief and brutal realism. (Cari Hunter includes a measure of brutality in her work, as well, but it has direct effects on the story and the characters. Here it is parsed out only in the Bladen kidnap scenes and then we jump to goofiness and cartoonish tough talk with Rainey. Reminds me of Marks’ Velveteen in that way.)
Once again, I am left with the same question I had last time I read a Bradshaw novel: who is the real R.E. Bradshaw? Some portions of the novel are riveting and uncomfortable and real, while others (particularly the development of Rainey Bell’s psyche) are superhuman, silly, and feel forced into a swaggering tough guy/heart of gold perfection that reads anything but human. Rainey Bell comes off like the Mel Gibson character from Lethal Weapon being cast in the Jodi Foster role in Silence of the Lambs. Or Vin Deisel as the Donald Sutherland role in Ordinary People.
But here is the thing… The Worm is intrigued. Bradshaw has a voice – well, two, really. I’m just crossing my nubby lil worm digits that she either picks the one she is most comfortable with and runs with it… or decides to bifurcate and write two different series. The flippant, implausibly perfect/childlike characters and scenarios don’t mesh well with the gritty, psychodrama Bradshaw is so good at.