I have a soft spot in my heart for Ian Fleming’s spy novels. They are irreverent, misogynistic and politically incorrect. James Bond is a shit. That said, other spy novels seem more action-heavy, more serious, more realistic, and much less fun by comparison.
I have a new series to adore. Dyal Bailey just published The Artisan, following the exploits of Rafaela Ramos, a deadly, diminutive scientist/assassin working for the Federal government. Whereas Bond fought his battles in the shadow of the Cold War, Rafaela operates without a corresponding ideological imperative. Her targets are anonymous assignments, unlike the insane threats to world peace that populate Bond’s world. Good. Let’s not spoil the fun with the politics of good and evil.
In the opening chapter, she knocks out an opponent and finishes him with a kick to the head. (Not a singular event for Rafaela, who is a lethal package.) The professional glee with which she approaches her foes calls to the anarchist in me.
There are villains, of course (though some of them wear the good guy’s colors). But don’t expect traditional bad guys. The author, tongue firmly in cheek, pits her heroine against a performance artist/murderer who films his crimes for the pleasure of a crime family boss, who enjoys the films as a substitute for sex.
Don’t let this brief summary dissuade you. Bailey deftly mixes the creep factor with subtle humor and a break-neck pace to keep the reader guessing—and gasping—at every turn.
The plot is a clever pretzel, with elements of science, lost love and betrayal. I loved every page of the book. And the twist-within-a-twist ending left me yearning for the next volume in the series.