Sweet Revenge - Zoe Archer In a broad, generalized way, Sweet Revenge by Zoe Archer reminded me of the original Mission: Impossible TV series which I recently discovered due to Me-TV, a channel on local cable. I love this show, and after watching it, I think it just underlines what is wrong with those MI movies starring Tom Cruise. Although Sweet Revenge is set in 1886 it is very similar in premise to Mission:Impossible. Nemesis, Unlimited is a covert group of people "who correct imbalances in [their] society", doling out vengeance and justice by any means necessary. Known only as Lazarus, an older former military man heads up Nemesis along with Harriet Bradley, Simon, Marco, and Eva Warrick. They are a private organization of "trained warriors" who work outside the parameters of any government agency and are hired by clients who've been, well, wronged. This time their client is a young woman who was "ruined" by Lord Rockley, and Nemesis recruits Jack Dalton to help them serve justice to Lord Rockley.

"Diamond" Jack Dalton has served five years of a 42 year prison sentence in Dunmoor for attempting to choke the life out of Rockley who murdered his sister, Edith. He is a former housebreaker-cum-bare-knuckle fighter who later moved up as the "muscle" to protect Rockley. His nickname comes from being "formed by crushing pressure into the hardest thing to walk the streets of London." Jack and his sister were raised in Bethnal Green, one of the poorest slums in London, and interestingly, it is Bethnal Green and Whitechapel which provided hunting grounds for Jack the Ripper. When Jack learns Rockley is in a nearby town, he makes a daring escape from Dunmoor, to finish the job he started five years ago. Instead he comes face-to-face with part of Nemesis: Simon, Marco, and Eva Warrick who holds him at gunpoint.

Jack is literate, but barely, and has all of his life made his way using brawn not brain. His hulking size, menacing manner, rough-hewn appearance, and crude language contribute to the first impression that he's a little lacking in the intellect department.

"If you want someone beaten to a stain on the carpet, I'm your man. Otherwise, you'd have been better off leaving me to rot in Dunmoor." (99)

"Even if I knew something, which I don't, I'm no good at this thinking business. Never done it before." (102)

"No one's ever thought of me as anything more than hired muscle." (103)

But part of the charm of this book is that Jack discovers there's more to himself than even he ever credited. And that starts with Eva helping him to see past limitations he placed on himself. When she challenges him about never "thinking" by pointing out that he devised an escape from Dunmoor, alone, in less than a day, he is surprised and a bit suspicious, but it kickstarts Jack's self-evaluation.

"For several moments, he was silent as he studied her face. Looking for the truth of her words. Uncertainty lurked just beneath his gaze-" (103)

Eva recognizes Jack's self-doubt is moored in being told all your life that you have one ability, one value, "and that value was definitely not your ability to think." (103) (emphasis added). When Harriet asks Jack to write down all he knows of Rockley's schedule, Jack is reluctant. He's not comfortable writing having been educated in the "ragged schools in Bethnal Green" where children received only the bare basics of reading and writing and were sent to work at a very early age. Jack is more "physical than intellectual" and "sitting around and thinking business don't come naturally to [him.]" (106) But Jack is not stupid and he proves to be a canny strategist with a sharp acuity for reading people and their weaknesses. His street smarts and familiarity with London's underbelly come in handy many times in their pursuit of obtaining proof of Rockley's malfeasance.

Eva's alter ego beyond Nemesis is as a tutor for young girls whose fathers are in trade or are merchants. Her teaching abilities are utilized many times to help Jack realize his worth is more than just a"mindless thug." She is a strong, true kick-ass heroine who can shoot and fight as well or better than any of her Nemesis cohorts. I would have liked to know a little more of her backstory. It's clear she's no shrinking virginal miss, and it's clear there's more to her past than just being raised by missionary parents. But she is still a great heroine, and I absolutely loved how her and Jack's relationship is resolved.

Eva has such a wonderfully dry, sarcastic sense of humor. For instance when Jack is forced to strip out of his prison garb in the carriage on the way to the train station, he taunts Eva with having herself a little "peek." She is intrigued by and drawn to Jack's magnetism but determined not to show it and so retorts with:

"'It's a small matter if Mr. Dalton encourages me to contemplate his shortcomings.' Then, deliberately, she let her gaze fall to his groin. 'My jacket must be extremely warm, for I had no idea the night was so cold. That is the explanation, isn't it, Mr. Dalton?'" (41)

And then a little later, he struggles to fit in trousers, shirt, waistcoat, and jacket sized to fit him before five years of hard labor had broadened already broad shoulders, and thickened powerfully muscled thighs. Jack's shoulders will not be contained in the shirt, ripping some of the seams, the waistcoat won't button, the jacket strains across the shoulders, and cuffs were inches above his thick wrists. Marco after attempting to fit a collar around Jack's neck says it's like "dressing a lion as Little Lord Fauntleroy" and that only a "spare wheel rim" will fit. Despite a lack of collar, Jack, embarrassed and angry, ties a very inelegant knot sans collar and says:

"'There,' Jack said with a growl. 'Now I look like the bloody Prince of Wales.'

'If His Royal Highness were ten inches taller, three stone heavier, and had spent his formative years in a bull-baiting ring,' she said, 'you would be his perfect likeness.'" (43)

I've not read anything by this author, but if Sweet Revenge is an example of her writing, I'll be looking for other books by her. She has a terrific talent for writing wonderful prose, peppered with interesting characters, terrific chemistry between Jack and Eva and a story that kept me engrossed from the first page to the last. I'm eagerly awaiting more of the Nemesis Unlimited series.