Rating: 5 out of 5
Note: this book was originally published under the name “Natalie Edwards,” but is currently being published under “T.C. Parker.”
T.C. Parker’s thriller The Debt: El Gardener Book 1 is a wonderful heist-type novel. When El was just a child, her mother was murdered. Although the man who presumably killed her was dealt with, it turns out he might have been framed. El, who’s a con-woman extraordinaire, is brought onto a team by her mentor, Ruby. Rose, who’s bankrolling the whole thing, wants to take down a wealthy, influential man: James Marchant. Each person she brings on to the team has a reason to hate Marchant, a manner in which he ruined their lives: missing parents, dead husbands, and so on. It seems Marchant has much to answer for, and Rose is determined to use her team to ruin his life in turn. Unfortunately, Marchant isn’t just cruel and misogynistic; he’s also very smart and has a lot of resources to call on.
I love the formation of a team of strong, almost fearless women who are all very good at what they do. There’s an expert in surveillance tech, a journalist, an actress, and more. El is an “inside woman,” who turns herself into whoever is needed to get close to their mark. (There are good-guy men around the edges, such as Ruby’s sons who are lawyers; they’re just not part of the main ensemble cast.)
El can’t help thinking that the whole situation is a bit too perfect. There are little details around the edges that seem too ideal a setup for a con, and it seems like everyone is keeping secrets. But there’s convincing evidence that Marchant killed her mother, and she won’t back down from getting revenge.
My only problem with this book is that it switches around in time a lot. Relevant things happen in 1976, 1978, 1993, 1996, 1981, 1990, 1995, 1998, 1994, 1975, and 1966. It seemed impossible to keep track of it all. I think a few of the flashbacks to past events could have been handled in other ways to keep them from confusing the issue so much.
If you’re looking for a detailed and satisfying (but also dark and tense) con job story, especially one with multiple strong women, I highly recommend this one!
Content note for child death, violence, drug use, and sexual situations.