The rich, cultured, and gorgeous Ulrich Van Holtz has the singular ability to keep a lot of different balls in the air as he smoothly juggles them all. Between the wildly successful restaurants and business investments, the hockey team he owns and serves as goalie, the properties he manages, and his position in the Group as a team supervisor, Ric is definitely skilled at multitasking. The moment he laid eyes on Dee-Ann Smith, the deadliest she-wolf in the country (and probably several other countries as well), he truly appreciated all those balls for what they were: intensive, hands-on training. And it would take every single bit of that training, every skill, all of his many talents, and every single ounce of his canny intellect to achieve his new life goal: making her his.
He's a Van Holtz. Failure is not an option.
Dee-Ann Smith is a cold killer. A ruthless, massive she-wolf, she enjoyed her years in the shifter-populated Unit, and now she's out, she likes the combination of freedom and license to kill that she gets working for the Group. She's the deadly ghost who can slip past any defense, slide into anyplace she wants, and do it all in a blink with nary a sound. Scarred, yellow-eyed, and genuinely disinterested in anything remotely resembling social etiquette, she'll never be pretty, but she's the one wolf you want ferreting out information and mowing down anything in your path.
For months the Group has had her working on blowing apart the hybrid pit fighting rings that threaten the lives of hybrids and risk discovery of their kind to full human masses. After a major coup in Ursus County, Ric's cousin Van, the Group's powerful director, sifts through the fallout and points Ric and Dee in the direction of one of their own, someone with the deepest of deep pockets betraying their kind and threatening their secrets. Following the money to catch a genocidal killer has never been so dangerous or risked so much.
Rounding out a plot arc that started developing in The Mane Squeeze two books ago, and giving the much-loved Ric and the...uh...less loved, more feared Dee-Ann a chance at their forever home, Shelly Laurenston has given this bawdy, crass, hilarious series a new (final? - god, I hope not!) chapter that will delight fans and make them cheer. As a huge fan of the series, I've been both looking forward to and slightly leery of this book, as neither Ric nor Dee-Ann have been favorite characters of mine, but I had ultimate faith in Laurenston's unique and powerful talent to draw me in and make me smile (I hated the thought of a whole book about Blayne at first, too, but now I adore her and her book). In several ways, she did make me smile, in others, and for the first time in any book I've read by Laurenston or her nom de plume G.A. Aiken, I wasn't totally drawn into or captivated by the story and had some big issues with plot, continuity of character, and romantic development.
Before anyone starts throwing rotten fruit at my head for my blasphemy, I want to explain that I love this series. Love. It. And I loved the Magnus Pack series. I loved Hunting Season: The Gathering, Book 1 (and keep hoping to see that series continue). I love Aiken's Dragon Kin series. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Laurenston/Aiken's writing style, the mix of humor, sex, humor, blood, the occasional dismemberment, sex, humor, and romance just totally does it for me. Period. And there were definitely several parts that I enjoyed in this book, and my three star rating is more a representation of how I felt about it in comparison to the other books in the series than any declaration that I thought this book was just okay, but in the interest of complete honesty, I can't say that Big Bad Beast totally worked for me.
The inclusive scenes did. I adored the Fourth of July weekend party at Ric's new property. I loved that so many beloved and familiar faces were a part of the book. And I absolutely adored getting a refresher on some of the funniest reading moments of my life. Nothing makes me laugh faster and/or harder than Lock palming Mitch and Bren as he goes about his day not realizing he has them in his clutches. Nothing tickles me more than reading about Blayne manipulating...well...everyone. Few things make me smile like Mace's egocentric world view and his issues with his progeny. Or seeing Angelina use her fashionista talents as a force of good. Or seeing Gwen go Philly on someone's ass. And I could go on and on. There were so many old friends that were an integral part of this book and those were, to me, the best parts.
Unfortunately, that's part of the problem.
There was very little romance development in the one relationship that I was sure would've taken a few armies and a core of engineers to make work. It happened so fast and was so subtle in the build up that the "I love you" moment was almost anticlimactic. At first they weren't together...and then they were...and then there was luuuuuv.. And some other unrelated stuff happened before, during, and after. Yeah, that's an oversimplification, but that's really the feeling I got about the romance plot threads of the book. It wasn't bad, please don't misunderstand, but it just wasn't the sort of wacky, dangerous, just-as-likely-to-lead-to-bloodshed-as-sexual-calisthenics, emotional roller coaster we've seen in every single other book in the series, and the roller coasters are always my favorite rides at the theme parks.
I liked Ric. I liked Dee. I liked them together. Meh.
The two other major plot threads also seemed underdeveloped and felt lacking to me. The antipathy between Ric and his father has been mentioned and alluded to for a couple of books now and had awesome plot potential, but was oddly underutilized and fizzled out without much development or even much reaction from Ric himself. The hyrbrid pit-fighting thread naturally played a bigger part, and I did enjoy seeing Dee join forces with Dez and Cella Malone as they worked the crimes, but the investigative parts were anemic (though points for the very funny trip to the hyenas) and the story took an odd turn at the end that felt unsupported by previous events and lacked sufficient build up to make it as emotionally powerful as it could have been.
Again, please don't think I'm complaining or saying I hated the book. I'm not, and I didn't. But compared to the first five books, the most recent two in particular (Gwen/Lock, Blayne/Bo), this book just wasn't nearly as funny, touching, quirky, romantic, or sexy to me, it didn't seem as well developed around the main romantic pair, and there wasn't as much actual meat to the non-romantic plot threads to make the book seem as layered and richly developed. Instead, and in part because I loved the scenes with all those old friends, this book ended up seeming more like a long and complex epilogue to previous books in both this series and the Magnus Pack series instead of a solid addition to an existing series that stands well on its own merits.
And...uh...the fact that I can hear Blayne's voice in my head yelling, "Someone's Ms. No Fun!" is just disturbing. Um...yeah.
Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.