Reviewed by Berni Phillips Bratman
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 47:12 (#341) in December 2010.]
Double Cross is the second book in Crane’s Disillusionists trilogy, the first being Mind Games. Justine Jones is a rather pathetic hypochondriac who, some time in the first book, has acquired the ability to transmit her specialized health fears to others. This makes her one of a band of disillusionists, people who are assigned to special prisoners who need to be kept distracted by their emotions. The prisoners are all highcaps, Crane’s term for what in comic books would be mutants, people born with extra powers, usually psionic in nature.
Justine is pretty much indentured to a highcap named Packard, a former criminal who assigns Justine and the other disillusionists their targets. Her cover is that of a nurse, although she has no medical training other than the auto-didacticism that a hypochondriac is likely to acquire. When she’s not scaring the pants off her “patients,” she’s sneaking around with Otto, her secret boyfriend who is openly the mayor and secretly a highcap whose tremendous power keeps all the prisoners in their prisons.
The prisons are one of the ways in which this book is clever. Justine’s main target, Ez, is imprisoned in a dry cleaners. Ez doesn’t realize she’s a prisoner. She thinks she’s working a job which lets her live there, and she’s become so phobic about germs that she thinks the force field which keeps her in is to keep other people from infecting her. Otto’s prisons allow the prisoners to be contributing members of society as they serve their sentences. Packard used to be a prisoner in a restaurant.
Bad things start happening in Midcity, the city where they live. A trio of serial killers dubbed “the Dorks” have been going around killing highcaps, although the existence of highcaps is an urban legend to the citizenry of Midcity. (Another of the clever things I liked about this book was Crane’s naming of the villains. I wonder if she meant it as a nod to the trio of villains in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6.) And Justine makes a mistake on the job. Ez is a dream walker. Touch her flesh to flesh, and she can invade your dreams. That’s what she’s imprisoned for, invading people’s dreams, making them perform criminal acts for her, including cannibalism. Justine touches Ez to “zing” her (transfer her fear to Ez) as Justine’s also touching Packard. The result is that Justine and Packard start sharing each other’s dreams, and Ez can start controlling them.
It’s an interesting premise and interesting characters. When Justine gets together with her fellow disillusionists, it’s like reading about the bizarre “D” family in Gaiman’s Sandman series (Dream, Death, Desire, Delirium – the whole gang). The pacing in the book didn’t always work for me. It dragged in the middle, making me wonder why I was continuing reading it, but then it got exciting towards the end of the book. It made me want to read the final book when it comes out and maybe seek out the first as well.