Book Reviews: LOVE KILLS TWICE and LOVE BLEEDS DEEP by Rien Gray

The first book of the Fatal Fidelity series was my favorite of 2021 and the second book beats it without trying. These books are noir romances (or, in current subcategory parlance, suspense romances) and follow the emotional (and physical, and sexual) trajectories of a budding bisexual femme fatale and the assassin she hired to get rid of her abusive husband. This sounds glib—the books are more raw than this description makes it sound, and they don’t shy away from the emotional extremis of their characters’ circumstances. The domestic abuse Justine suffers at her husband’s hand is not depicted graphically but the emotional consequences, and her PTSD, are. Campbell, the non-binary assassin she hires, is a smooth killer in a suit but also has their own problems: combat trauma and the fear that one day they’ll become a monster. It’s a potent combination, providing a setup for the two of them to share not just sexual chemistry but exchange vulnerabilities.

Book one deals with the process of husband deletion, and the physical stakes are pretty low (since he’s an out-of-shape college professor and Campbell is, uh, a professional killer). The emotional stakes are strong though, and it’s pretty interesting to see Justine’s growing attraction to someone who’s very much from a different kind of life (she runs an art gallery and, up to this point, has led an ordinary life).

The second book ramps up everything else (including the sex! I feel the second book is much denser with it than the first, which does make perfect sense for the characters), pitting Campbell against an ex-military interrogator who’s menacing an American diplomat in France. There’s a much more thorough exploration of their past, and a nod to the horrors of the military-industrial complex that I found succinct and well-done.

Lunch might be some hastily assembled sandwiches, but with perfect ingredients, there’s no way to go wrong. “With the Legion, or with the mercenaries?”

He makes a vague gesture. “They are both symptoms of the same disease. Leave the poor and broken with nothing but a gun and they will pick it up for the first person that offers them a reason. We have to, so we can survive. France being kinder to me was coincidence.”

“But you wanted to stay?” I ask.

Ulysse’s smile fades. “I would be ashamed to return to South Africa. When I could have fought for her freedom, I ran. Those that shed their blood deserve better than breaking bread with a coward.”

It’s certainly not what I would have expected reading the first book, and this as well as other aspects made me rate Love Bleeds Deep a good bit higher than Love Kills Twice. The way Campbell’s PTSD symptoms are written can be difficult to read, in that it’s so well done and unflinching. At the sentence level, I like how smooth the prose it; it goes along at a good clip without sacrificing rhythm.

By the end of the second book, Justine has developed a lot, and it’s great to see how she and Campbell complement each other (and help each other stay whole, or at least not fall apart during moments of great stress). I’m really looking forward to the third book, Love Burns Bright.