Review – In the Black (Tales from the Edge #1) by Sheryl Nantus

In the Black cover image

Publisher: Carina Press
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

When Sam Keller left the military, she ran to the far end of the galaxy. Now she captains the Bonnie Belle, a spaceship full of courtesans who bring a little pleasure to hard-up men on mining colonies. When one of her girls turns up dead, it’s Sam’s job to find out who killed her, fast.

Marshal Daniel LeClair is hot as a star and quick on the draw. When his vacation gets replaced by an assignment to help find the killer, he can’t help angling for a little action with the saucy, hard-charging Sam. She’s got brains, attitude and a body he wouldn’t mind investigating.

Sam, six months lonely, might just indulge him. But the Guild that owns the Belle wants the case closed yesterday. With pressure coming from all quadrants, Sam and her marshal clash over false leads and who’s on top. But when the killer threatens the Belle again, romance will have to wait. It’s a captain’s job to save her crew, no matter the cost.
This blurb came from the author’s website.

I eyeballed this blurb a few times torn between liking the idea of space, woman captain, murder, law enforcement in space and not quite sure what I would think about a heroine responsible for a ship full of courtesans. Obviously my curiosity took the lead and I am so glad it did because I enjoyed this first installment and I am rather curious to see what Nantus has up her sleeves for the next one.

After a rather unpleasant event in the military, Sam never thought the hardest thing she would have to face was as Captain of a courtesan ship. Only after she realized her assignment meant selling pleasure without being able to partake or even without having the platonic closeness of the people she served with did she start to regret her job but even then it was out of loneliness . There was a definite wall between Sam and the courtesans because she wasn’t one of them and as an ethical Captain she also turned down any overtures. On one of her routine mining colony visits, she discovered a renewed interest in life and men as she dealt with a rather messy murder and the marshal brought in to close the case.

Daniel was a loner. He didn’t play by the established rules and never let anyone influence him into altering his decision about a case regardless of the status of the individuals involved. As a result he had the best closure rate and also no possibility of settling down to a plush quiet promotion. When his plans to finally take a vacation were interrupted by a murder investigation, he thought it would be a quick one and then he could get back to his vacation. Instead, he discovered a nosy, prickly, protective ship’s captain and a rather tangled mesh of potential motives, false clues, and too many suspects.

I enjoyed watching Daniel navigate through both the investigation and Sam’s defenses. She was so wounded and suspicious of anyone in a position of authority or power because of the event that effectively ended her military career she provided both help and hindrance in the investigation. The sparks between Daniel and Sam were very evident as much as both tried to blame it on a long dry spell or other excuses. Seeing their mutual trust gradually grow despite their obstacles and the increasing stresses of the investigation as time passed without a resolution was a lovely treat. It was such a contrast to the barrenness of the mining colony and the brutality of the original murder.

When I was thinking back on my impressions of this story Nantus seemed to almost include two separate relationships. The primary romantic one between Sam and Daniel and a secondary platonic one between Sam and the courtesans on her ship. The courtesans had a certain amount of trust in Sam as the ship’s captain but that was due to her job not to her person. At the same time Sam did not understand how they could do what they did or even know how to relate to them on an interpersonal level. Seeing that change and watching Sam’s bewilderment as she did what she thought was right and the results was almost like a reaffirming that Sam wasn’t permanently damaged, just a bit scarred.

In addition to the characters, I thought the universe Nantus created was very fascinating. The power of the Guild with its checks and balances, and fail-safes even over the vast distances of space and how that power was used by varying individuals in different roles. The idea of space Marshals who were supposed to be independent, neutral, and able to deal with a variety of situations reminded me of tales of the wild wild West and the Rangers or gunslingers who enforced the law or what was called the law. The ships making supply or other runs between mining colonies or outposts who were dependent on their regular arrivals and therefore had an element of power and protection. Desperate men and women who signed contracts almost impossible to pay-off because the Company/Guild provided and therefore charged for everything needed to survive making retirement or early pay-out a pipedream.

Growing up I read a lot of westerns and In the Black, Nantus took one of my favorite childhood story flavors, added some adult elements, moved it out into space, and created an overall whole I enjoyed reading. As a result, not only am I looking forward to her next SFR but I am also going to look at her backlist and see what other gems I can find.

I give In the Black a B

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