Desert Isle Keeper
A Chip and a Chair
Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series earned a place on my Best of 2018 list, and the penultimate book, One-Eyed Royals, was actually my pick for best book of the year. I’ve shouted from the rooftops about this series for the last six months and to say I’ve been eager to get my hands on this final instalment is one hell of an understatement! A Chip and a Chair is, I’m delighted to say, a supremely fitting end to what has been an incredible series – a tightly-plotted, utterly gripping story full of high-stakes action, emotional highs and lows, and boasting a wonderfully developed, sexy romance between a couple of complex, well-defined and compelling characters.
As is always the case when reviewing suspense novels, I’m not going to say too much about the plot so as to avoid spoilers, but there are spoilers for the earlier books in the series in this review.
For the better part of a year, Las Vegas has been the ‘home base’ for a particularly devious serial killer dubbed the Seven of Spades, because each of their victims has had a seven of spades playing card left on their body. Right from the start, the killer cultivated a relationship – of sorts – with homicide detective Levi Abrams; he’s the one they contact, the one they’ve sometimes fed information to and the one they’ve gone to great lengths to protect. As the books have progressed, the SoS’s partiality for Levi has led to increased suspicion among his colleagues and a growing sense of isolation from them; a man with anger management issues who struggles to keep himself under a tight rein at the best of times, Levi has been slowly unravelling and getting closer and closer to the edge of his control.
The love and support of his partner, PI Dominic Russo, has kept Levi grounded for the most part, although the couple hit a rocky patch at the end of book three, Cash Plays, after Dominic, a compulsive gambler, relapsed, his lies and manipulation driving a wedge between them. Their break-up left both of them struggling through some of the blackest times of their lives alone, but by the end of One-Eyed Royals, they were back together, filled with a new determination to work things out between them – and at the beginning of A Chip and a Chair, they’re moving into a new apartment. It’s been a month since the game-changing events at the end of One-Eyed Royals, and the Seven of Spades has been quiet since then – but Levi knows it’s only a matter of time before they strike again.
When a construction crew working in the desert unearths a number of bodies in various stages of decomposition, Levi and his work-partner Martine are convinced they’ve found the Seven of Spades’ first victims. Examination and testing is going to take time, but a long overdue piece of luck leads Levi to a real breakthrough in the case – just as the LVMPD is forced to turn its attention to the threat posed by the far-right neo-Nazi gang, Utopia, which has been stepping up its activities in recent weeks, instigating a string of violent hate crimes across the Las Vegas valley and causing panic among the local population. When credible evidence is found that they’re planning to mount a series of terrorist attacks, the city is thrown into chaos. Worse still, Utopia is intent on challenging the Seven of Spades – and on using Levi to get to them.
As to the rest… well, you’ll have to find out for yourself because my lips are sealed! Yes, we do find out the identity of the Seven of Spades and yes, it’s a shocker; the author cleverly presented several candidates, none of whom was more or less likely than any of the others, and I know people who have been speculating about their identity since book one. But odd as it may seem, I was so invested in the relationship between Levi and Dominic, and the way they and their circle were affected by the Seven of Spades’ actions, that learning the killer’s actual identity wasn’t my main focus; all of the possibles were people close to Levi in some way, so that whoever it turned out to be, it was going to be an incredibly harsh betrayal – and it was knowing that was coming that I found to be one of the most compelling elements of the story.
I devoured A Chip and a Chair in one sitting, and if I’d been any closer to the edge of my seat, I’d have been sitting on the floor! I was right there with Levi and Dominic as they got closer and closer to discovering the truth, my pulse racing during the spectacular, mid-book action sequence and then again as Levi, Dominic and their small band of allies – including Rebel, Dominic’s specially trained personal protection dog! – race to find the man behind Utopia’s reign of terror and prevent an atrocity the like of which Las Vegas has never seen.
And in the middle of all of it are Levi and Dominic, closer, stronger and more in love than ever, still battling their demons but thoroughly committed to working through them together and being completely open and honest with one another. I’ve said in previous reviews that I’ve been really impressed with the author’s depiction of Dominic’s addiction and that continues here; she hasn’t glossed over it just because the guys are back together and makes it clear that Dominic is still struggling and will probably continue to do so, but that he’s working hard, every day, to fight it. And there are big self-revelations for Levi, too, as he finally faces up to some long-buried truths about himself – and the final scene *sigh* – gave me All The Feels.
Cordelia Kingsbridge delivered everything I wanted – and more – in A Chip and a Chair. Nail-biting tension, fantastic, vividly-written set-pieces, a complex plot, a brilliant central dichotomy that was so audacious it made me smile and moments that reduced me to tears. I’m not going to forget Levi and Dominic – or this series – in a hurry, and if you haven’t started it yet, prepare to lock yourself away for a few days, because I guarantee that once started, you won’t be able to stop reading until the very end.