Lust, Money and Murder are a series from Mike Wells, but let’s think about them being a trilogy for now: Lust – Money – Murder. Book 1 has the subtitle Lust and deals with the events that shaped Elaine Brogan’s decision to become a Secret Agent, the training required to finally qualify, and eventually her first assignment abroad.
As a young impressionable college girl, Elaine is lured by the potential of becoming a model and earn a lifestyle she could only dream of. After borrowing and paying thousands of dollars to the Rising Star Modelling Agency, for modelling workshops, and a final a one-to-one session with the owner Ronald Eskew, she realises that she’s been conned and now he wants sex if she is to progress with his agency. Unwilling to continue and feeling duped by the whole experience she asks for her money back, and surprisingly he returns $2000 to her. Unfortunately for her and more so for her father, the money is counterfeit and her father takes the rap to keep Elaine out of jail. In addition to passing counterfeit money, her father is found to have been stealing construction materials from his previous employer over many years. Unable to deal with the hefty prison sentence, her father commits suicide and she vows that she will hunt down the person she feels is responsible – Ronald Eskew, and make him pay. I can understand the anger and desire for revenge, but for me, it was a massive jump for her to totally commit her future, her plans, and her dreams, to finding Eskew and bringing him to justice.
The story develops in a very engaging way, showing how Elaine develops her skills and with a talent for identifying counterfeit currency she becomes an important secret agent. The road has not been easy and through gruelling training and testing, she succeeds. At her first job in Montana, she is sexually harassed by her boss and the consequence of rejecting him results in her being transferred to Bulgaria. This aspect of the storyline is very well told and it gradually builds with the turmoil Elaine is feeling as her first job is going downhill fast. In Bulgaria, we get to see a different way of life, where payoffs and covert dealings are commonplace. Elaine falls for her new boss Nick LaGrange and at first, it all seems like an unrequited infatuation and stumbles along for quite a while before taking a step forward. This is quite a realistic scenario but I never really felt the depth of desire from Elaine that she professes to feel towards Nick, nor did I believe the motivations from Nick as to why he waited so long and how he now feels towards her.
The ending is really abrupt and while there is no secret that this is book 1 of an initial trilogy, I still felt it ended prematurely. I’ve only started the second book but already I feel it would be much better to combine into 1 book especially as each book is only about 100 pages.
The espionage story is interesting especially being based around an extremely high-quality counterfeit operation and the plot is quite pacey with that edge of revenge built in. The relationships are not engrossing or believable enough to bring out the loyalty or motivation concerns and keep me riveted, and the Lust framing didn’t really play a significant role.
I have also listened to major parts of this book on audio and it is very well delivered. Well worth a read and a listen. I would like to thank Mike Wells for providing me with a copy of Lust, Money, and Murder in return for an honest review.