Bit the Jackpot by Erin McCarthy

bit the jackpot.jpgErin McCarthy has stumbled onto a bit of obvious brilliance: If there is a perfect place for vampires in the twenty-first century, that place is Las Vegas. It’s logical that the hot, sexy, and just a-little-bit dangerous undead, would make a town that caters to the night and doesn’t blush over indulgences in avarice, lust, and gluttony their home. In the hands of the right author, Las Vegas is a backdrop rife with conflict and rich with potential for the living and not-so-alive alike. In the hands of the wrong author – an author who doesn’t seem to know the city beyond tourism commercials – well, then, you have the second installment in the Vegas Vampires series Bit the Jackpot.

It would be easy – too easy – to spend several hundred words on just how little McCarthy knows Las Vegas and to further speculate that if she’s spent any time in the city, her experience off The Strip consists of the cab ride to and from McCarran Airport. The lack of understanding is there in both the details presented (September temperatures rarely top out at 80, closer to a hundred is more accurate) and the details that are left out: the infectious abandonment of reason, the dark undercurrent of desperation that rears up, and the ease with which an otherwise rational person can be swept along in the flow of alcohol, luck, and sex that permeates the air. That is what Las Vegas is, but that the characters of Bit the Jackpot are not products of that environment, or that the setting isn’t integral to their story, makes the backdrop useless scenery, a good idea squandered.
McCarthy’s heroine, Cara Kim, is a stripper. But Cara is to strippers what McCarthy’s Las Vegas is to the actual city: a fanciful rendering that doesn’t really exist. Cara is that pillar of heroine purity: a virgin. That in itself is a point too contemptuous to comment on. And, while Cara takes off her clothes and dances around a pole for money, she does so behind a scrim. No one actually sees her naked and in turn Cara can pretend no one is watching her. There is potential in the exotic dancer angle, but the conceit blunts under this execution. Cara’s job makes for an arresting opening, when vampire hero Seamus Fox “sees” her on stage and the chase is on. But, Cara’s watered down job is quickly moved to the back burner as she’s caught up in a street fight between Seamus and assassins.
Predictably, Cara is killed and Seamus must choose between letting a woman he’s lusted after for twenty minutes die, or turn her into a vampire for all eternity. Seamus is a four hundred year old vampire and it could be assumed that he’s been present at the deaths of a mortal or two over that time (perhaps even brought death upon a few people). For reasons that lack solid footing, Cara cuts through whatever it is Seamus has seen in the past or currently believes in and he chooses to give her eternal life. From here, the book moves into the heart of its story, which consists of Seamus keeping Cara safe from bad guys who are of very little actual threat. For his part, Seamus is a likable, surprisingly tender hero who isn’t surrounded by a plot that would allow him to shine.
Seamus, those who seek to do him harm, the entire world of Vegas Vampires, it is assumed, are built and expounded about in the series’ first book, High Stakes. Bit the Jackpot isn’t less for the lack of world building, it’s easy enough to understand who and what the players are as this isn’t the sort of paranormal that needs introduction via a glossary. However, salient point about Seamus’ character (again assumed to be dolled out in the first book) are told in after-the-fact fashion here which lessen the impact of his decision to turn Cara and drive the story into off-the-page-action territory.
When Cara and Seamus finally come clean with their feelingsfor one another, admit to their pasts, it’s a point of clarity in the book. For one moment, gone is the sense that McCarthy was guided by writing a romance and following whatever rules might apply to that. The scene is straight forward, full of depth and completely lacking in the cloy coyness that elsewhere permeates. Which begs the question: why isn’t the rest of the book written with the same sobriety, the same lack of pretense?
Bit the Jackpot has charming moments, but that charm manages to chafe as there is nothing to accompany it. If McCarthy could combine the effortless magnetism she sometimes writes with, with powerhouse storytelling and avoid the pitfalls of sloppy craft, she could be an author for the keeper shelf. Until then, her light and simple reads are easy to pass the time with and easier to forget.
You can visit Erin here and purchase this book here and here.

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