Stop here if you’re planning to read Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series and haven’t read books one through five yet. This review is for book six, By a Thread, and will contain spoilers for the earlier books.
In the previous book, Spider’s Revenge, Gin Blanco (as the title implies) took care of Mab Monroe, her nemesis and the crime boss of Ashland Tennessee. At this point, Estep’s fans have got to be wondering “now what’s Gin gonna do?” It seems like her life is set; she’s got an awesome boyfriend, she’s reunited with her sister, business is booming, and her enemy is dead. But life still isn’t easy for Gin. With Mab gone, all sorts of bad people have been trying to take Gin out and she just can’t get a break. So Gin, Bria, Owen, and Finn pack up and go on vacation to the town were Bria grew up in a foster family.
When Gin and Bria go to a restaurant owned by Bria’s best friend Callie, they discover that the local crime boss (a vampire) wants Callie to sell her restaurant to him so he can build a casino on her property. When he sends a couple of goons to rough Callie up, Gin gets involved. Then the local police detective shows up and guess who it is? You’re right! It’s Donovan Caine, the guy who dumped Gin! And he’s engaged to Callie! So now Gin and her friends have two problems: they need to get rid of the bad vampire and Gin needs to deal with her past issues with Donovan.
OK, I pretty much lost all respect I had for this series at this point. I see that By a Thread has very high ratings at GoodReads, so I know that my opinion is the minority one. I suspect that fans are enjoying the romance and particularly the love square (or rectangle, or rhombus) of this story. Donovan is casting longing looks at Gin while Owen is clenching his jaw. Great stuff for the right kind of reader.
But this book has the same problems that I mentioned in my reviews of the last few books. The plot of By a Thread is especially sloppy with characters acting in ways we just can’t believe. As just one example, two thugs are talking about their plans out loud while trying to break into Gin and Bria’s hotel room in the middle of the night. After Gin and Bria kill them, they decide to dump the bodies in the pool (a few stories down, which takes a couple of trips in an elevator), clean up the bloody hotel room with cleaning supplies that just happened to be in the room, get the car key from the valet and give him a $100 tip (they are still in bloody clothes), walk to the parking garage themselves, then cruise around town in a bashed up Aston Martin (still in bloody clothes) before going to the house that Gin had rented and stocked without telling anyone, just in case they had to leave the hotel. Not only does this sound like a really good way to get caught, but it is totally out of character for Bria, the detective of the Ashland police department. Wouldn’t Bria insist on calling the local cops? The women were only defending themselves, anyway. It seems like it’s much better to call the cops than to try cover up what was an act of self-defense by two well-respected women. There are many other examples of sloppy plotting, too.
But the worst problem with By a Thread is its lacks originality. The vampire who borrows elemental powers by drinking the blood of Elementals is really cool (except that we don’t see him do much with it), but other than that, this plot feels like a combination of the previous plots. Even the new character, Callie, runs a restaurant just like Gin. (There’s a reason given for this, but it still feels stale.) A crime boss wants someone’s land, sends his goons to threaten the woman who owns it, is willing to kidnap and torture people to get what he wants, the corrupt police can’t stop him even though they have a good detective (Donovan Caine), etc. We’ve seen all this before, just in a different city.
Gin’s personality has changed a bit in By a Thread. Lauren Fortgang’s narration puzzled me at the beginning. She makes Gin sound angry, cynical and disgruntled which surprised me, especially after Gin’s triumph at the end of Spider’s Revenge. But soon we discover that her relationship with Bria is rocky (a little hard to believe after what happened in the previous book) and then she gets jealous of Bria’s friendship with Callie. She has an all-out pity party, which I thought was immature and unlike Gin. There are some touching moments, though, and by the end Gin learns to open up and let others in. Readers who are enjoying Gin’s relationships will probably be pleased with how that part turns out in By a Thread.