Hailey Cain has returned. A former West Point cadet whose career is sabotaged by a slow-growing brain tumor that renders her fearless, Hailey has gone underground since her career crashed and burned, second in command to Serena “Warchild” Delgadillo, leader of the LA gang El Trece.
Cain has adapted to her circumstances as best she can, including the loss of a finger at the end of Compton’s prior novel, Hailey’s War. Four hundred miles from home, licking her wounds and staying under the radar, Hailey’s face is suddenly all over the news, wanted for two homicides. What first appears a case of identity theft becomes more sinister - and personal - with each news cycle as Hailey depends on her fellow bangers and Serena to move in the shadows and avoid police attention.
Compton draws a lot from Hailey’s War, reintroducing people and events to give this novel context. But depending on the first novel robs this story of its stand-alone identity, the various fragments of Hailey’s life dropped in as necessary to pull the story together. While it makes sense that we know Hailey’s background, the ebb and flow of the plot in this novel struggles to compete with the first. And for all the near-cliffhangers, there just isn’t the same sense of action or commitment. We get it that the bad guys are extreme, stone killers, but the nuances of gang versus organized crime are lost in a plot that smacks of the little engine that could.
There’s no doubt that Compton has the talent for dialog, action, motivation and attitude, but every time Hailey steps up in this effort, feminist as vigilante, she has to be better, smarter and more agile than her adversaries, as fierce as her military skills and fearless reputation. She just isn’t. Cain’s cousin CJ, a wealthy music producer and recluse who shared a tough childhood and similar interesting romantic inclinations, exists only in the shadows this time, where he remains. Part of Hailey’s story arc, there is no explanation for CJ’s failure to make an appearance. Even the stalwart Serena is barely present, a part-time character at best.
While the author salts the novel with potential plot lines for the next in the series, Compton fails to make the case for her edgy heroine. Thieves Get Rich, Saints Get Shot feels like a bridge to the next book, some nasty characters fleeing the scene as though in reserve for further adventures. Hopefully, by then the original Hailey will return with a vengeance.