Money Shot, the second book by Susan Sey, features an oft-neglected branch of law enforcement. For all the town sheriffs, city police detectives, and FBI special agents we see in romance novels, it’s not often that we get a Secret Service agent – and from their lesser-known counterfeiting division, no less. Counterfeiting may not seem exciting at first glance, but Susan Sey incorporates it into a much larger psychological drama that I had a hard time putting down.
After reacting badly to sexual harassment from a coworker – i.e., emailing everyone all the way up to her boss’s boss about it, rather than reporting it to her immediate superior – Agent Maria di Guzman (Goose, to basically everyone) is sent to the tiny island of Mishkwa, a pagan-inhabited and car-free chunk of ice in Lake Superior along the US-Canada border. She’s sent there for two reasons: one, it’s the home of Rush Guthrie, the sole member of a political party whose platform involves attacking the governor with a flaming pitchfork. Two, it’s the entry point of Korean superbills, counterfeit bills that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.
Shortly upon arriving, she realizes that the pitchfork thing is totally bogus (long story), and the superbill issue may be more complex than she first thought. Rush is a former Navy SEAL sniper whose job as a government assassin started to wear on him. He lives on the island along with his aunt Lila, cousin Einar, and Yarrow, a troubled teen sent to live with her step-grandmother. The complex relationships within this family become the focus of the investigation, as suspicion flip-flops between Yarrow and Einar. Both have their reasons to be mules for counterfeit bills, and to practice the black magic that is coinciding with it.
Rush and Maria are both complex characters, struggling with guilt and their own identities. Those who read Ms. Sey’s debut, Money, Honey will recognize Maria (Goose), but only superficially; her appearance in that book is very different from the reality of her internal point-of-view, the dichotomy of her character is itself is a significant part of the novel, and one of the most interesting. She kept her secret a bit too long, I think. The author kept making cryptic allusions to the past, which works for a while but by page 200 – just tell us already! However, I admired her honesty with Rush. He sees straight through her mask, which was both significant and slightly implausible in its immediacy. Rush, too, has his demons, and the two of them fighting together create a strong and believable connection between them.
Yarrow, too, is a fascinating character with a dark past. Again, I think the author kept the truth from us a bit too long, but her role in the investigation and her voice added a twist to the plot that worked really well.
The publisher describes Money Shot as a “sexy, fun contemporary,” but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Yes, there are funny moments, and sexy ones, but those aren’t the ones that stuck with me when the story ended. This book has a lot more depth than I expect from the average “sexy, fun” story.