Publication Date: January 22, 2014
In The Devil’s Playground by Laura Oliva, burlesque dancer, Frankie Strong, has been through a lot in her life that she has let go, but when her best friend is attacked there is no way she is letting the attack be swept under the rug. Johnny Marsdon is a cop on the outs working undercover in the show as a knife thrower and he knows there is more to Cookie’s attack than there might be instantly evident. Can Frankie and Johnny work together or is this it for both of them? The Devil’s Playground is the first in a planned series of novels.
The author, Laura Oliva, gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my review.
The Devil’s Playground is quite a dark read. It could be called a romance novel except that it plays more by the rules of suspense than romance. What Oliva is giving us is a good start to a series that promises to appeal to readers who prefer the darker side and protagonists who have been through the fire and have no real promise of ever living outside of it.The Devil’s Playground read, in a lot of ways, like classic noir so I did look for a connection to the iconic song “Frankie and Johnny” by Hughie Cannon (written about a murder in 1899). The names appear to be purely coincidental.
Frankie starts the novel as something of a victim of her past. She is harassed by Bianca and seems almost helpless to really put an end to the fixation because she’s not completely sure how she feels about the attention and there’s something comforting about it continuing. When Cookie is attacked, Frankie snaps into something of a take-charge character in a way that feels wholly organic. She’s still somewhat weak when it comes to Bianca, but she’s focused on doing whatever she has to do to keep her friends safe. The character she becomes is a character that readers knew she could be from the moment they met her. Oliva makes bold choices that may not appeal to all readers, but those choices add a unique voice to her story that this reader really enjoyed. Things are not as simple for Frankie as they may be for most characters in her genre.
What readers may not like is that this is a story on Viagra. I cannot recount how many sexualized elements there are and the kicker is that they’re not sexualized in an unrealistic way. The antagonist, when she’s preparing to do some truly painful things to a victim, there’s a focus to her bosom and the pronounced nipples to imply the sexual thrill she gets from the act. Johnny’s story line focuses a lot around his attraction to Frankie and his focus toward sharing bodily juices with her. There were points in the novel where I mentally implored the two main characters to just have sex and be done with it. The thrust (no pun intended) of the story is a redemption of sorts for both Frankie and Johnny. Frankie is on a path of escaping her past and going forward on her own terms. Johnny’s journey is somewhat less pronounced. We know he’s tortured but for readers of this genre, while he’s well developed as a character he’s perhaps more the foil. The eye candy who rides in when needed and when we know that Frankie needs him even if she finds him somewhat inconvenient.
All things considered, I really liked The Devil’s Playground. These are fascinating characters in a dark world that readers seldom experience. I am very interested to see where Oliva goes with the rest of the series. Laura Oliva is based in northern California.The Devil’s Playground is her third novel. Check out the reviews of her books All that Glitters and What the Body Needs.
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