Clarissa Cartwright isn’t entirely sure how she ended up being the “It Girl” for Enigma lingerie’s newest fashion line, nevertheless she finds herself heading out on a multi-city tour, ready to be the face of the company.
Of course, considering she will be sporting a jewel-encrusted bra worth over 5 million dollars in diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, it’s not likely many people will be looking at her face anyway, gorgeous as it may be.
Paragon Security’s Charles “Chunk” McNeill and his partner, Zoe Piper, have been tasked by Gareth Gane, promotions manager for Enigma, with keeping both the so-called “Fantasy Bra” and the Birds Of Paradise, what Enigma calls the models in their show, safe.
It’s a bit of a challenge considering the number of people traveling with the production, not to mention the local personnel at each tour stop, but McNeill is a twice-decorated police veteran turned private security operative with over twenty years’ experience. Even the most experienced security professional, however, can’t account for every possible situation, especially when there are wild cards involved.
Enter Atlanta-based thieves and con artists Rafe Valentine and L.B. Gordon. Valentine’s nephew, Branson, happens to work in the kitchen at the hotel hosting Enigma’s Atlanta tour stop, and with Branson in place as the inside man, combined with Gordon’s underworld connections, Valentine thinks he’s finally on to the score of a lifetime. Ambitious but not crazy, the idea is a quick snatch (of Cartwright) and grab (the Fantasy Bra), with little to no violence involved—get Cartwright, take the bra, let Cartwright go, sell the stones, be set for life.
An unexpected detour happens on the the way to easy street, of course, or else we wouldn’t have much of a book.
And once things go off the rails, they do so in spectacular fashion given that Cartwright’s boyfriend, Mario Allegretti, whom she’s actively trying to dump, happens to be the son of a New Jersey mob boss. Throw in a washed-up British comedian with a penchant for off-color humor who’s hired to MC the fashion tour but decides he can score a major comeback by going wildly off script, a former fashion model turned tour supervisor who has a few surprising tricks up her sleeve, an endearingly misguided “Moose” of a thug, an incredibly handy Hello Kitty Taser (yes, you read that right), and a couple of pissed-off twins who happen to be eunuchs (yes, you read that right, too), and the stage is set for an immensely enjoyable heist caper gone wrong.
Ice Chest, the latest release from Shamus Award-nominated author J.D. Rhoades (Jack Keller series), has an early Coen brothers vibe about it, combing laugh-out-loud humor with outbursts of violence, which often have a dark-humor quality to them. Think Raising Arizona meets Fargo meets Ocean’s Eleven… against the backdrop of an over-the-top Victoria’s Secret-style fashion show. Valentine, Gordon and crew may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they can still cut, and there’s no question Jersey boy Allegretti and his adviser, Paul Chirelli, are as dangerous as it gets. Chunk McNeill and Zoe Piper are as opposite as people can be in almost every way, but Rhoades’s sharp writing and witty dialogue ensure they not only fit together as partners like hand in glove, but that they are also able to seamlessly welcome an unexpected new member onto the team at a run when things go seriously sideways and all hands are needed on deck.
Smoothly combining humor and serious high-stakes action is tricky business, as is keeping a large cast both interesting and clearly sorted out, but Rhoades handles the setup and execution with ease, taking both his cast and readers along for a wildly creative and entertaining ride.
Ice Chest is available from Polis Books (ISBN: 978-1940610801).