About the Book
New York, 1955. Former socialite Henrietta (“Rhett”) Bishop, destitute after her father gambles away the family fortune, takes a job at Redclaw Security. But Redclaw is no ordinary operation. Part detective firm and part enforcement agency, Redclaw regulates matters involving the growing population of shifters who have emerged since the onset of the nuclear age.
Peter Knight is a nuclear scientist shattered by the death of his wife. Blacklisted by the government and scientific organizations, he drowns his sorrows while searching for the people behind his wife’s murder.
When Rhett is assigned to recruit Knight, their meeting is more than either bargained for—a rival organization will do anything to secure Knight for themselves. Following a lead to locate a missing cache of alien technology stolen from Redclaw, Rhett is thrown back into her previous glittering life with Knight as her pretend boyfriend. But when someone from the past turns up to start a bidding war on the artifacts, Bishop and Knight wind up in a fight for their very lives.
I’m not terribly fond of shifter stories, you see. They’re too often thinly veiled rape – or at best dubious consent – apologia, with the excuse that the ‘alpha’ male of the shifter pair has no control over his animal urge to conquer and possess the female. Well, excuse me if I fail to find the attraction in some dickhead jackass waving his primal urges in my face. I prefer characters to have a little more depth than that.
Which is why, of all the genre, I read McKenna Dean. She writes about real people, who are likeable. The sort you wouldn’t mind inviting round for dinner. Faulty – yes, of course they are. But you can respect them and understand the reasons they make their choices and decisions because she gives them backstory and depth and – ruddy heck – development and growth. This book is no exception.
Dean’s building up a cadre of books based on the premise that shifters live in a world that overlaps with ours, with parallel structures, organisations and government. One such organisation is Redclaw Security. Her previous books have been contemporaries, with Redclaw in the background, its agents seeking out lost shifter princesses or coming to the aid of former team members. It hasn’t been front and centre in the books, but ticking along nicely, and intriguingly, behind all the main action. In Bishop Takes Knight, she pulls Redclaw into centre-stage, taking us back to 1955 to show us Redclaw’s origins and how it grows into the premier shifter agency on the planet.
Cleverly, though, she doesn’t show us that through a shifter’s eyes. Henrietta (Rhett) Bishop is no shifter. She’s a socialite in post-war America, down on her luck. She’s proud, clever, impetuous, terrible at taking orders and something of a loner who finds it hard to trust or work with others. Taking her last desperate chance of a job, she ends up as a typist at Redclaw, and so the agency is, quite brilliantly, revealed. The reader finds out more about Redclaw – what it means, what it does, the odd-bods who staff it, who the mysterious Ryker is – along with Rhett. We know only what she does, when she knows it, and in her narrative, we’re plunged into 50s America, with all its differences from the present day and all its similarities. Add in a love interest for Rhett in the shape of damaged scientist hiding from his grief in the bottle, and a treasure hunt with remorseless antagonists in opposition that reaches a breathless climax, and you have a fascinating story that I really couldn’t put down.
The romance is low-key. Both because of the time period of the book, and the two main characters’ personalities and experiences, don’t expect physical gymnastics. There aren’t any. This is a slowly growing love story, that’s all the more satisfying because of its restraint. It’s sweet, without being saccharine. I can’t wait for another story involving Bishop and Knight. They’re a wonderful pairing.
All in all, highly recommended.