All In, by Joel Goldman and Lisa Klink *****

all inThis one is 4.75 stars, rounded up. Thank you to Net Galley and to Thomas and Mercer for the DRC. This absorbing thriller will be available September 8 for purchase.

Cassie Ireland is an asset recovery specialist; she views herself as a modern-day Robin Hood whose job it is to steal back money, goods, or even really embarrassing videos from those that originally stole them. Her employer is a shadowy individual code-named Prometheus–a moniker chosen because Prometheus was the sneak thief of the gods. Ireland’s nimble, silent in her work, and careful in trusting others. She really can’t be played.

Her job here is to steal select items from the home safe of crooked-wealthy magnate Alan Kendrick. In order to gain access to his treasure trove, she must first make it past a sophisticated security system, to which she gains access by deceiving Kendrick’s wife, Gina. Once Cassie found her way into that safe, I stopped breathing until she was out again. I think my fingertips turned blue. But once she’s been in and out, things once more begin to unspool at a heart-pounding pace.

Jake Carter is a professional gambler, and he too has a grudge to settle with Alan Kendrick. He plans to beat him at poker; he’s fast, smart, and fair. Unfortunately, the last whale he took down has sent goons after him. They want the money he took from Theo at the table, and they also want him dead. Jake’s challenge is to go after Kendrick while dodging Theo’s assassins.

Ultimately, Cassie, Jake, Theo and Kendrick all land on the same enormous floating gambling casino. You can run…but only so far. You can hide, but sooner or later, you’ll be found. On the other hand, you can also turn your stalkers into your prey, if you’re cunning and well organized, and if you can gain the loyalty of others nearby. And then too, you might be able to grab a helicopter!

All In is fast, escapist fun. Ordinarily I would call this a four-star review. Four stars are my default for books that are anywhere from pretty good to really good, but that don’t meet the gold standard of five stars. My four star reviews are big houses with a lot of rooms. If I hate a book but concede that others are likely to enjoy it, I will go with four stars and explain what I didn’t like. I also give four star reviews to books like this one that I like a lot, but can’t see them as the very epitome of their genre. Five stars means excellence that is above and beyond ordinary work.

The tipping point here that knocked this up to five stars is the use of race and gender. Nobody wants to be preached at in the middle of a thriller, and Goldman and Klink don’t do that. Rather, it is by the assumptions that are inherent in their choice of protagonist (Ireland is African-American, female, smart as hell and way more fit than any gum shoe I can recall); the way the plot unfolds, with no helpless damsels waiting for great big men to come save them; and the way secondary characters are handled, the butler foremost among them. It reminded me a bit of Barbara Neely’s writing, and so I wanted to stand up and cheer.

Fall is coming, and whether you are still basking in the sun on weekends or huddled by a fire, it’s a great time to treat yourself to a tightly paced, accessible thriller by authors that show their respect for all people, especially the working class, in the way they sculpt their characters and plot. It looks like a winner to me.

Why not order it while you can?

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