The Best Bad Things

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

This was difficult to get through. The narration is so repetitive and lacks any ability to grip me.  The gender fluidity definitely won my attention at the start but over the course, it felt like a convenience to help the character gain what she desires. There is a lot of talk about desires and wants and needs and it keeps being narrated in a cyclic manner that loses my interest quickly. The story, as such, was good if it would be viewed generally but I couldn't enjoy it for the writing and main character.
Was this review helpful?
Historical crime fiction is a popular genre right now – you don’t need to look much further than Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham. Well, The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco is another entry in the canon of hard-boiled crime fiction, and it’s actually apt that Faye provides a blurb for this book. The Best Bad Things is hard-knuckled and packed with more punches than you can shake a stick at, but it is also an unusual novel in that it features a female who cross-dresses as a man acting as the “detective” of sorts. Set in 1887 in Washington Territory, the book concerns a woman named Alma Rosales who is a former lady detective with Pinkerton who has been thrown out for bad behaviour. She has crossed the street and now works for Delphine Beaumond, a woman who runs a West Coast smuggling ring. 

Alma has wound up in Washington Territory to help sniff out how opium shipments stewarded by her boss are going missing. To do this, she invents a new identity as Jack Camp, and sets about infiltrating the den of thieves. However, there are moles and double crosses. Will Alma be able to keep up the rouse? Or will she be outed as a woman? That’s basically the thrust of this book, with the payoff being that if Alma succeeds in her role, she’ll be promoted up the proverbial food chain. And while Alma (or is it Jack?) is as tough as nails and can pull punches with the best of them, she also has a feminine side – and what makes the book particularly interesting is that she’s bisexual and works both sides of the street, in more ways that one.

If this book hadn’t been written by a woman, I would charge The Best Bad Things as being a bit misogynistic. Alma/Jack gets into a whole bevy of scrapes, and her body becomes the site of great violence. She/he gets bruises from punches pulled on her, she gets stabbed (in the throat no less), and she even gets shot at. The Alma/Jack character is being consistently punished and pummelled, so that’s where the slight misogyny comes in – though I realize that this is a book about a woman entering the rough and tumble business of being in a man’s world, and Carrasco successfully pulls off the trick of making a woman be like a man. 

The dialogue is also quick and nimble with more insults bandied about than you would find in your average Marx Brothers film. This is in keeping with the hard-boiled nature of the text. I was reminded of Dashiell Hammett’s stories of the Continental Op – which is apropos because the Op is also a Pinkerton man – and the kind of easy quips that passes through that character’s lips. However, there is a flaw with hard-boiled stories and it is that they can be all style and no substance. While Carrasco has the vernacular down and I suppose you can read between the text to come to all sorts of interpretations about gender, I found that the action and all of the double-crossing to be confusing to really follow. Which is probably the point. 

Still, the novel is populated with all sorts of henchmen doing dastardly deeds, and I found it hard to really tell them apart or tell what side they were really on. This could be an asset of the novel – after all, in a book of this sort you want to keep the reader on their toes. However, aside from one character who whittles wood with a knife, it was next to near impossible to really discern who was who and also who was working for who and at what time. However, the novel is fun enough I suppose – if you don’t mind reading about ladies who deserve better getting beaten up and in the way of sharp objects. The fun is in the fact that the Alma/Jack character is as tough as nails, even when he/she is getting the shit kicked out of him/her. She/he really holds her/his own, and refuses to let a little thing like a cracked rib keep her/him down. Alma/Jack is all too eager to get into all sorts of trouble, even with her superiors, and that makes her/him a touch on the unpredictable side. 

Overall, I suppose I enjoyed The Best Bad Things to a point. It takes a while before you realize where the book is actually set – the author doesn’t do a very good job at telegraphing things early enough – and one character who is dark-skinned is not described as such until well into the first encounter with the character. I chalk this up to the fact that The Best Bad Things is a debut novel, and such things are a bit of a newbie’s mistake. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, don’t make the reader wait 17 pages to find out an important detail such as setting or a character’s physical trait. But, come to think of it, maybe it’s not a mistake at all, and is meant to keep things off kilter? Still, it would have been nice to have a bit more grounding.

All in all, The Best Bad Things is not a terrible book. It’s not the most sterling thing I’ve read either, but the language is poetic enough and the violence and blood-letting is fun. In fact, fun would be the word I’d use to describe this novel. It’s probably an important volume, too, for raising or elevating the status of women in a frontier world. The book captures the underbelly of West Coast crime before the turn of the twentieth century. The underworld of ships, storage areas, opium dens and more make this a kind of voracious read that will keep you certainly on the edge of your seat. And, for what it tries to do in making women the power brokers is captivating enough. The Best Bad Things is not the best that the genre has to offer, but it stands pretty good on its own. If that’s enough incentive for you, then I would certainly give it a try.
Was this review helpful?
This is a very masculine novel about a woman which is a very rare king of things-very much to Carrasco’s credit. She uses a lot of violence and sex to keep tension high, pacing quick, and plot intense. The book is so fast and you have to pay attention because the plot twists and twirls and no one is a reliable narrator. The reader remains in the dark more than they know what’s going on but it rushes into a satisfying ending-another rare thing.
Was this review helpful?
I typically love books by this publisher - MCD is the absolute best (and a big thanks to them for providing me with a copy of this book for review!). I just could not connect with this one. I found the writing to be a bit bland (not bad - just bland), I found the main protagonist unlikable, and the pacing was severely off, leaping around instead of steadily pacing itself through the narrative. Unfortunately this one just did not work for me.
Was this review helpful?
Alma Rosales is trained in espionage by the Pinkerton Detective Agency and she's looking for stolen opium. Except she's dressed as a man as she does her detective work for Delphine Beaumond. She's also a traitor. Will she be able to keep up her multiple identities? Or will she be found out and suffer a nasty fate? This was such a wild ride! And it was full of so much historical information that I could not get enough!
Was this review helpful?
This is a fast paced crime novel. I loved every page. It was so refreshing to see an unabashedly bisexual biracial woman take center stage. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone.
Was this review helpful?
I was really excited to read this book as the premise sounded right up my alley.  However, I just could not get engaged in this book or the characters and I could not connect with this writing style.  Therefore, I was unable to finish reading this book to give it a fair review.  Because of this, I will not be posting a review to any online platform.  

Thank you for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Was this review helpful?
This book takes you on a wild ride, with a protagonist unlike any other.

Alma Rosales is a detective, trained by the famed Pinkerton Agency. That's pretty unusual for a woman in the 1880s. But the thing is, Alma isn't all that interested in playing by the rules. She doesn't respond too well to authority, she has (more than) a bit of a violent streak, and she likes dressing up as a man to go undercover. None of this sits well with the Pinkertons, who dismiss her.

Now Alma works for Delphine, who runs a smuggling ring—and who happens to be Alma's occasional lover. On the hunt for stolen opium, Alma figures the only way to find the criminal is to go undercover. So she pretends to be Jack Camp, a dockworker, and she figures that by befriending the local boys and getting in with the crew, she'll be able to unmask the criminal. If only it were that easy...

The deeper Alma ingratiates herself (as Jack), the more she finds it hard to keep her wits about her and remember to whom she's told what lies. She's also playing both ends against the middle in the romance department as well, and Delphine in particular doesn't take that too well. With the Pinkertons circling, Alma needs to marshal all of her strengths in order to kick ass and take names—or she could die trying.

There are a lot of twists and turns and double-crosses in The Best Bad Things, so I'll keep my plot summary fairly vague. Suffice it to say, Alma is one of the most fascinating characters I've read about in a long time. I'm loving the recent trend toward gender-fluid characters and characters whose sexuality isn't the defining trait, but it's not so much the norm when books take place outside of present-day.

But as fascinating a character as she was, I didn't like her very much. She really had a mean streak and I couldn't determine what its origin was, but it made it difficult to sympathize with her. I'm also not sure that I really bought the whole cross-dressing thing—I just kept waiting for it to all fall apart. There are some intense sex scenes in the book, some which were tinged with violence, so that may be a trigger for some folks. The book also jumps around a lot, so the story and the timing of certain things became confusing from time to time. It was interesting to learn about the crime that took place in Washington in the late 1880s, and to see the myriad roles women played in such a lawless society.

Even with its flaws, this was a really interesting book. I hope more authors take risks like Katrina Carrasco did her, and create unique characters that defy stereotypes and aren't above some occasional ass-kicking.

NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!
Was this review helpful?
A novel set in 1887 in Port Townsend, Washington, starring Alma Rosales: ex-Pinkerton detective, current opium smuggler. Alma is newly arrived in Port Townsend, and is there on a mission. Part One: figure out who is the head of the opium game in town. Part Two: take his place. As you might imagine, this turns out to be far more complicated than she originally planned, and the plot turns on blackmail, murder, torture, bribes, backstabbing, moles, broken promises, fake interrogations, mistaken identities, and more. It's as twisty and surprising as the very best heist movies, and I can honestly say that I did not see the end coming at all. 

Alma is the best bad thing of all: brutal and ruthless, clever and tough, and moving forward so fast that we barely see the regrets in her past. She's bisexual (and we see her relationships with both men and women), Latina, and possibly genderqueer; she spends most of the book passing as Jack Camp, boxer and dockworker. But on the other hand, the narrative sticks firmly with the 'she' pronoun, and Alma shifts between races and classes as easily as between genders. We see her be a Scottish virgin and a Southern belle Madam at other points in the book. It's unclear if she is genderqueer, or if she simply loves the disguises:

Alma can be many things. She has learned to value this mutability: how she can shift her compact body into many shapes, powder herself pale or let the sun darken her complexion. She loves to see her costumes through other people’s eyes. Delphine watching her as Camp, cutting a deal over fenced diamonds in San Francisco. Wheeler watching her as a governess, timid and wilting. Hannah watching her as a rancher’s daughter, flirting in rapid Spanish with the Yuma vaqueros. Alma loves performance. What began as a thrilling trick in a Chicago saloon has become a passion. And now she’s back onstage before her favorite audience—though it’s hard work to win Delphine’s applause.

But the most distinctive thing about The Best Bad Things is its style. For all the Western action, heist twists, and gun battles, it's very much a literary novel. It might concern itself with tropes, but it takes them very, very seriously. I was reminded of Steve McQueen's Widows: another plot that outwardly seems like not much more than old cliches, but which is told with the highest craft and a dazzlingly brilliant investigation of these characters and their world. Unfortunately – in both Widows and The Best Bad Things – the sharp-eyed intelligence of the telling reduces some of the pleasure. Heist stories should be (or at least usually are) fun, and I can't quite call The Best Bad Things fun. It's too violent and cynical for that, and it's hard to have good time when the writing never looks away from the characters' struggle for survival. 

Is that a criticism? Probably not. The Best Bad Things wasn't what I expected from its blurb, but it's hard to complain that a book is too well-written. 

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2635341221
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Farrah, Straus and Giroux for a review copy of The Best Bad Things, all opinions are my own.

The Best Bad Things is a unique historical crime fiction novel. Alma Rosales is a bisexual, fierce, smart women making her way in a dark trade. Recently dismissed from the Pinkerton Agency, Alma finds herself hunting for corruption in the opium smuggling ring run by her former lover Delphine Beaumond.
This book has a lot of violence, sex (both woman/woman and woman/man) and a lot of sub plots. I would say that the weakest point of this novel is how much is going on. There are railway conspiracies, personal battles, smugglers, some double crossers, and on top of it all Alma is mostly dressed as a man named Jack Camp, another thing some know and some don’t. It was a lot of connections to keep track of and sort out.

Overall, I really liked the unique viewpoint of this novel. I have not read much in the way of historical crime, especially set in 1887 America, but this book has certainly opened my eyes to that sub genre. I do think that Alma is worth reading about, just wish it was a less convoluted plot.
Was this review helpful?
A disgraced Pinkerton detective, Alma Rosales, takes up working with a smuggling ring to find out who is stealing the opium. Rosales, who goes undercover as Jack Camp, is spirited, rowdy, and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Or, in some cases, what she feels should be done. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this. While the start seemed a bit slow and dense, it started to pick up after a few chapters and I couldn't put it down. Rosales/Camp was well written, and while I may not have agreed with some of their decisions, they always followed through with whatever consequences occurred. 

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Fun and compellingly readable, I found myself reaching for this book constantly for "just one more page". Reminded me of Amy Stewart's "Girl Waits With Gun" series, but the time period in which this is set adds an extra dimension.
Was this review helpful?
*Trigger Warning, book contains very explicit content and violence.* That being said I really enjoyed it.  A vivd cast of characters, a strong decisive style, and a burning tension throughout make The Best Bad Things a book I can highly recommend.
Was this review helpful?
This is a story of opium smuggling in the late 19th Century that you wouldn't expect. It opens up the world of 150 years ago in a way that is both carefully researched and surprising to the modern reader.
Was this review helpful?
I received this book through NetGalley and its publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  

The plot takes place in 1887 with a setting in Port Townsend.  It is based on corruption of an opium smuggling ring in the Northwest.  Many including prominent citizens and government officials were involved in the illegal activity.  The book includes Pinkerton agents, murder, blackmail, conspiracy, and sexual scenes.  The protagonist is a woman, Alma Rosales, who was part of disbanded Pinkerton’s Women’s Bureau and disguises herself as a man, Jack Camp.  The book has many twists and turns.  

It is an interesting story based on true times, but it was also hard to follow at times.  The chapters bounce around in time and a chapter with a transcript of an interview with Samuel Reed regarding the murder of Sugar Calhoun but the reader doesn’t know who Sugar is until the end of the book.  It isn’t until the end of the book that all the pieces come together but I thought it was hard to follow.
Was this review helpful?
Unfortunately, this book was not for me. It will definitely appeal to readers who like thrillers that include violence but for me it was not a good fit.
Was this review helpful?
In the Washington Territory in 1887, the opium business is booming. But it's also full of danger, unsavory characters, and intrigue. When Alma loses her job at a detective agency, she's hired by her ex-lover to go undercover as dockworker Jack Camp to find out who's interfering with the the supply chain.

I love, love, love Alma/Jack Camp as a protagonist. She's fearless, sexy, unpredictable, and tough as nails. And I really love reading historical fiction led by a queer woman who doesn't hate herself or her sexuality. Alma is wonderfully queer and unafraid to go after what she wants. 

That being said, the plot was a little too twisty and turny for me, and I feel like I spent half the book looking back to figure out who was what and when and how. There was a lot going right for this book, and there were parts I definitely enjoyed, but I too often found myself lost and confused to really get into it.
Was this review helpful?
This bloody, thrilling, mysterious book left me breathless and wanting more. It’s unlike anything else, a remarkable and revelatory debut tackling the intersections of gender, violence, lust, greed, and power against the historical backdrop of late 19th century Washington State in the age of mining, shipping, and opium smuggling. This novel’s protagonist resists gender categorization although many will likely attempt to put Alma Rosales and Jack Camp into neat boxes. Don’t fall for it. Stay in the tension of Carrasco’s world and acknowledge the brilliant ways Port Townsend’s characters disrupt your assumptions about what a Western Historical Fiction novel should be,  it will surely be made into a film. Read it with a friend before Hollywood interprets it for you. It promises a “book hangover” like no other!
Was this review helpful?
I have not heard of many books like this one. The Best Bad Things follows Alma, a detective who charades around as a man to get the job done. I thought that the premise of this book was rather interesting. I liked seeing a strong woman in an older setting. However, I expected this book to have a lot more mystery and intrigue than it did. All I really got from this book was the violent and fighting aspect of it, which is fine, but I just wanted to see more of the stuff behind the scenes. More of the plotting and planning. I don’t necessarily have a problem with all of the violence, but other people might and it can get boring at times.
Was this review helpful?
I was pleasantly surprised by Katrina Carrasco's The Best Bad Things which I picked up through NetGalley.  I thought the premise behind this story was new and refreshing.  Set in America's Gilded Age, The Best Bad Things illustrates how women were treated during that time, the juxtaposition of poverty with the onset of industrialization.  Carrasco takes advantage of these happenings highlighting the building of the Railroad system and the opium epidemic within the context of the story.   The main character Alma Rosales works as a detective.  Her disguise is that of a man.  She's taken on the persona of Jack Camp.  As Camp , Alma is a spy, a detective and a tough as nails kick ass heroine.  She has no problem using her sexual allure either as a male or as a female to get the job done.  I hope that Carrasco's intention is to build a series around the character of Alma Rosales because I would certainly like to see more of her.
Was this review helpful?