Title: Diversion (Diversion #1)
Author: Eden Winters
Cover Artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Length: 274 pages
Rating: 5+ stars
Review Summary: A fast paced plot and witty writing, pitting one of the biggest smart-asses around against a vegetarian pharmacist who doesn’t take any lip.
Drug dealers aren’t always on the streets; sometimes they sit in offices and board rooms, selling merchandise in official looking bottles instead of little cellophane bags.
When given a choice between eight more years in prison or using his “expertise” to assist the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau’s Department of Diversion Prevention and Control, convicted drug trafficker Richmond “Lucky” Lucklighter takes the sentence with the illusion of freedom. Cynical and unwilling to admit he’s begun to care about his job, he counts the days until his debt is paid. His sole obstacle to getting his life back is the rookie he’s assigned to train before he leaves; a rookie who quotes pharmacy texts, hasn’t paid his dues, and has the obnoxious tendency of seeing the good in everyone – including the target of their investigation.
Former Marine Bo Schollenberger dreamed of becoming a pharmacist and watched the dream turn into a nightmare of PTSD-fueled prescription drug abuse. Battling his demons daily, he wakes up every morning, wondering, “Will this be the day I give in?” To keep his license, he must now put his skills to use for a diversion control task force, deal with a crude partner with too much attitude and no brain-to-mouth filter, and take down a drug lord who reminds him of his favorite cooking show hostess.
The bad guys don’t stand a chance — if Lucky and Bo don’t strangle each other first…
Once again, Eden Winters has demonstrated why she’s one of my “must buy” authors: I swear Diversion is her best yet. With some plot points ripped straight out of the headlines and shaped deftly into a story that is uniquely hers, and vivid and offbeat characters that riff perfectly off each other, this was a book I had to read more than once.
Lucky’s got pride in a job well done, well hidden under the delight of “sticking it to the man” in a sanctioned fashion, but his cocky attitude and unrelenting banter are the prickles he uses to keep the world at a distance. Lucky is a giant pain in the ass in a banty-rooster body: he carves carrots into penises if asked to make the salad and drinks the wine straight from the bottle. He twists everything, and keeps the heat on Bo, who isn’t shy about handing the guff right back.
What starts out as straightforward lust coupled with “give the newbie as much grief as possible”—Lucky needles Bo endlessly with jabs at his vegetarianism, his education, and need to get laid—morphs over time into feelings that Lucky can’t identify clearly. His “give a shit” button has been broken for so long that he’s having trouble recognizing the symptoms of caring, either for Bo, or for his work.
The story is told completely from Lucky’s POV, which seems uncommon in a romance of this length, but we have no trouble knowing Bo, who has layers of pain and complexity that come out bit by bit. Lucky is also a man of layers: his private sorrows are exposed a fragment at a time, each tidbit building on what we know already, and explaining perfectly why he hates his job and yet is so good at it, and why he keeps the world at bay. That he can let Bo in, a millimeter at a time, is only slightly because of time healing wounds, but even more that Bo can know him, understand him, and accept all the horrible parts without judging. They fit together so beautifully by the end of the book, without losing an iota of the smart-assery.
The external plot revolves around drug diversion, where prescription pharmaceuticals are removed from the legitimate supply chain and sold to abusers. This is a real and huge problem: Ms. Winters touches on several ways it can be done, from out and out hijacking a truck to real doctors writing real prescriptions for imaginary ailments and enormous, ‘unsuitable for good medical practice’ quantities. She keeps up a fast pace, keeping me highly interested, a bit horrified, and terrified that somehow Bo and Lucky’s sting operation would go wrong.
Lucky and Bo are one the side of the angels now, but Lucky’s criminal past is what makes him so useful to the fictional agency he works for: the fox is guarding the henhouse because he knows all the ways in and out, but he’s wearing a collar. His descent into crime unrolls slowly as flashbacks, contrasting with his current life, which he’d like to escape as completely as he’d like to escape his past. Bo’s story is a little more conventional, his private demons encouraging him to take solace in the temptations that surround him at work. Neither is in the enforcement end of the pharmaceutical industry because they wanted or planned it: all they can do is make the most of it. (And each other, Lucky would add.)
The secondary characters such as Walter and Dr. Ryerson are fully fleshed and vivid. The villain of the piece is three dimensional—one can see both the desperation that created the situation and the ruthlessness that exploits it. Even a character that never gets face time has a realness to him through Lucky’s pranks, smarting off, and inner dialog.
The ending brought lumps to my throat, and all I can say is I needed that epilogue!
Very highly recommended: this book works on a lot of levels, and, oh yeah, Bo and Lucky sizzle together. Two words: assless chaps. 5 stars