I just finished All In and I’m still reeling from the way it ended. I’ve enjoyed the two previous books but this one was way better than them. Like Barnes’ previous books, once I started All In, I couldn’t stop reading it and finished it in a day.
As before, there is a killer of the week that the Naturals team needs to catch. The team is called to Las Vegas where the killer has already killed four people and kills one more shortly after they arrive. This killer is meticulous and patient and he is highly intelligent, he also doesn’t make mistakes. The list of suspects yields them nothing, because they all fit the profile and none of them do. While they are in Las Vegas, they also meet Sloan’s father and her stepbrother, Aaron. All of which throws Sloan’s world in out of whack.
Meanwhile, new evidence surfaces in relation to Cassie’s mother’s murder. A body is found and the police suspect that it may be Cassie’s mother. Unable to deal with what that might mean, Cassie throws herself into the current case resolving not to break down.
After starting and setting aside a number of books, it was a real pleasure to read this. I love Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ writing; it is compelling and very engrossing. And while some technical terms are used, they don’t sound like psychobabble. She also outdid herself with just the level of detail involved in these murders. The pace of the narrative also kept escalating and the stakes kept rising as the team literally raced against time to save another person from dying. The last few chapters were especially tense as all the little clues started adding up and still there was a real chance that the team might not figure it out in time. What makes this series very interesting is that even as the reader, it was difficult for me to pinpoint who the killer could be and I’m usually good at that sort of thing. She sets up red herrings along the way, all of the suspects are real suspects and anyone of them could be the culprit. But what is more important is the reveal of the actual killer. That’s very hard to do well. It could very well look sloppy or lazy or ham-handed and not feel convincing to the reader. But Barnes does that exceedingly well. The payoff is immensely satisfying.
The other thing that she does well is really involving the reader in the investigation. Through Cassie and Dean’s profiling, Lia spotting lies, Michael analysing facial expressions and Sloan going through extensive data and making sense of it all, the reader is with them every step of the way. The reader is just as invested in the investigation as the characters, feeling their frustration and helplessness and similarly, their exhilaration and satisfaction when they catch a break.
I think I also really like all the characters in this series, which is very rare. While I thought that Cassie feels like the typical YA heroine and she is that, she also grows as the story progresses. She’s not the same girl the FBI recruited not so long ago. She has seen things, felt things that have changed her deep inside. The Naturals team has become her family and she is willing to push aside her own pain if someone else on the team is even more vulnerable. I also liked that while there was romance, it was in the background. I also appreciated her relationship with Dean for once. They were supportive of each other and anchored one another firmly in the present. But I wonder if they will work out in the long-term simply because of how similar they are to each other.
All In also gave us a look at Cassie’s relationship with her mom and these moments were heartbreaking and bittersweet. The reader really got a sense of her loss and why she held herself back. Barnes painted a vivid picture of Laurel, she was so full of life and she really loved Cassie. I loved their relationship..
I liked Dean in All In. He is the resident older brother on the team and thinks it is his responsibility to keep everyone on the team safe from others as well as from themselves. He is also afraid of what his father might have turned him into and that fear lies heavy on his shoulders. But here, he was less stoic and stuck up and I liked that he was more relaxed. I really like his interactions with Lia and would love to see more of them. They really are like sibling and fiercely protective of each other.
We also learned a lot about Sloan and her background. For a character who deals with numbers and facts, she is remarkably vulnerable, making the reader feel as protective of her as the rest of the team. She meets Aaron, her stepbrother and realises that he might not be like their father and that he might genuinely care about her and like her. You really want that for her as well. It made me angry that her father made her feel like there was something wrong with her and that she was somehow lesser for it. She was able to see patterns that no one else could and was the person responsible for recognising the Fibonacci sequence and also where and when the killer would strike next. She did all of that while still reeling from the shock of seeing her father and his family. I loved Sloan.
I like Michael’s irreverent attitude and while I desperately wanted Cassie to pick him, I have made peace with her decision. He’s the resident bad boy who doesn’t bother toeing the line because he expects rejection from those around him. Even with the team, while he did open up to Cassie initially, when she chose Dean, he cut her off. But despite all of his walls, he is there for them when they need him and he doesn’t hesitate. He has no regard for himself but cares deeply about the rest of them.
Lia is still my favourite character. She doesn’t take crap from anyone and keeps Dean and Cassie firmly rooted to the ground and off their brooding wagon. She is sharp and intelligent. She’s not nice but she’s also not cruel. She learnt to lie out of necessity and like Michael, she doesn’t trust outsiders. We were given a fleeting glimpse into what Lia’s background could be and I can’t wait to find out more.
Agents Briggs and Sterling were around as well but they were more in the background this time. We saw more of Judd than we did of them and it is clear that he really does care for these kids. He wants to protect them from the monsters they hunt as well as the government who only see them as tools to be used and set aside.
The only thing that bothers me about this series is that all of the big murders seem to be connected to Cassie; her mother’s murder, Judd’s daughter’s murder, their current case. And that feels a wee bit contrived. Not because of the way it is written but the story itself, it feels convenient. Barnes stated in her blog that book 4 is so far the final book in the series and with quite a few loose ends, I am curious to see how she wraps them all up.
All In was an excellent read and a very quick one. It is one of those books that you will simply not be able to put down. It is excellently written and has enough twists to keep the reader hooked and guessing (often incorrectly) I loved every minute of it. This series has gotten better with every book and I can’t wait to find out how it all ends.