By Doctor Bruce Davis
So this is the 3rd review I've done for Doc Davis' books and most of you likely know the deal by now, but I will continue with the disclaimers. I am a friend of Doc's oldest son (and his daughter-in-law) and I've know Doc Davis for years. He even sold me these books at Phoenix Comic Con (at a discount!), autographed and with an agreement that I would review them. I should note that I am always grateful to the Davis family for their friendship. Now that we have the mushy stuff out of the way, on to the review!
Thieves Profit is the sequel to Glowgems for Profit, the story of Zack Mbele a freelance captain of a re-purposed Martian Interceptor looking to stay in the black in several senses of the phrase. I found Mbele a rather difficult character to deal with last book, not because he was poorly written but because I flat out didn't like the guy. He did after all turn on a paying passenger because Cleo Jones made some puppy dog eyes at him. While I do like pretty ladies, thinking with your pants when dealing a women you know will kill people for money is not only immoral but frankly stupid. I found myself liking Cleopatra Jones more then him and I wasn't sure what side she was on! If it wasn't for his relationship with Rabbit I would have written him off entirely and that would have made the book hard for me to read. That said Cleo wasn't even close to my favorite character, that honor was split between Rabbit and Deuce (poor, loyal Deuce who doesn't get enough time in the spotlight).
That said, I finished Thieves Profit with a lot more understanding for Mbele and I found I even liked him a bit better. Mbele still comes off as a scummier Malcolm Reynolds to me but the differences between the men are deeply strengthened for the better. I should note before I go any further that I am a big fire fly fan, I loved the series (ironically introduced to me by my friends in the Davis family among others), saw the movie in theaters twice, played the RPG... I can keep going but I'll stop here. Doc takes a Mbele a man with some similarities to Captain Reynolds (born in the colonies, joined a rebellion, lost his war) but creates deep differences in their histories and personalities. Mbele was directly betrayed by those he went to war for, his Glorious People's Revolution purged him, threw him into prison and experimented on him. As much as he hates the Earth Federal Government... He owes it his life, his freedom and more. So he pushes and tells himself that morality is dead, while acting at times in a strangely moral manner (granted a very unorthodox morality I can't agree with but still!). Captain Mbele doesn't like himself but can't bring himself to truly grapple with his issues. This book helped me get that about Mbele and with that understanding came a lot more sympathy for Captain Mbele and his actions. I can understand what it's like to wake up look into mirror, realize you're not sure you like the person looking back at you and have no damn idea what to do about it. I would still never trust the man and I would say until he can bring himself to confront his issues and determine a solution... He won't get much better.
Thieves Profit takes place a couple of years after Glomgem's for Profit. They're still flying the Profit, a refitted Martian Warship made into a fast small merchant ship. Cleopatra Jones and Captain Mbele got married... And divorced. Despite that they're still both living on the Profit with Cleopatra becoming half owner of the ship. I got to take time out here and ask if Captain Mbele had a shit lawyer or something? Because he owned the ship before Cleo showed up and hired her on as part of the crew. I'm not sure how that entitles her to half the ship? Maybe I'm missing something here? Or maybe Martian Divorce Law was written by those eval feminist lawyers that the MRAs keep warning me about? Doesn't matter. When the story begins Mbele is of course working a con for a big score, which... Of course fails and leaves him in front of someone much more powerful and wealthy. Mr. Wu, the son of man who got rich off of mining asteroids and means to stay rich. Mr. Wu wants him to do a job. Just go out into space and grab a single box off a freighter as quietly and quickly as possible. Here's the catch, Mr. Wu, has bought out the loan on the Profit. If Mbele fails the job? He loses the ship (which is both his home and his business). If he pulls the job off? The loan is paid off in full with a little extra besides. Of course there's a deadline and of course there's complications, such as having to rescue Rabbit from an assassin and as a result being grounded by an AI judge (Having AI law enforcers and judges seems to be near a theme in Doc Davis' work...). Captain Mbele is going to have to figure out how to pirate cargo without leaving the port or how to leave port without anyone realizing or getting blown up for piracy. Add in a heap of interpersonal persons between him and Cleo, him and Deuce and Deuce and Rabbit, as well as friends and love ones in trouble and well... It's not shaping up to be a good time for Captain Mbele is it?
We do get to learn more about Deuce, we learn that he has a step brother and about his mother. We even learn that he was fairly close to his step brother and his wife. We learn where he was when Captain Mbele was carted out to jail, which helps explain why Deuce didn't try to break him out. We still however don't know why Deuce is still so insanely loyal to Captain Mbele. I mean it certainly isn't for his sparkling personality or great leadership abilities. I'm actually hoping that if there's a 3rd book it'll help answer these questions for me. Because Deuce is still something of a cipher. He does however play a much bigger part in this book then he did last book and we learn a lot more about him. So I'm fairly happy.
Rabbit doesn't get a lot of character exploration in this book, but he was a heavy focus in the last one. So you know... Fair's fair. He does get to pull of hacker shenanigans but those actions don't take a lot of page time, although we see that Rabbit's paranoia hasn't improved over the years as he continues to insist on living in as close to a fortress as he can find and maintain. It doesn't seem to help much though in this story.
Cleopatra Jones spends a lot of the story off camera so to speak, with much of her time in the story interacting with Captain Mbele. I've been told this is suppose to be a toxic relationship, but I'm honestly not seeing that. Before they hooked up Captain Mbele was a drunk, who abused drugs to escape his past and his problems with the experimental nanofibers stretched across his nervous system. This book we don't see a trace of any drug or alcohol abuse on the part of the good Captain and we're very aware that Cleo disapproves of such things. So in least one small thing we know that the relationship has been possibly good for one of the parties involved. That said, this is in no way shape or form a healthy relationship. For one thing, they are constantly lying to each other and trying to trick each other. Both parties are willing to engage in manipulation on several levels to try and get the other to do what they want. At no point do we see Captain Mbele or Cleopatra Jones consider sitting down and discussing their positions like adults. I can't claim to be a relationship expert beyond having made a bucket load of mistakes but I have learned that if you're in a relationship where lies, emotional string pulling and misdirection happen a lot more often then basic conservation? Your relationship is broken and it may be time to consider leaving. Neither one of these two are innocent here and frankly I have to wonder if they're capable of a healthy romantic relationship on any level. I'm certainly not seeing any evidence of that here.
I also want to note that I think it's a shame that Cleopatra Jones basically gets framed in the story through her romantic relationship with Captain Mbele, as it colors every interaction we the readers have with her. Don't get me wrong here, Cleo is written to be as much a person as Captain Mbele. She's not his trophy, his plus one or anything along that lines. She's shown to be intelligent, professional, capable and like everyone else on this ship (expect maybe Deuce) incredibly flawed as a human being. In this book we'll see her outsmart herself pretty good for example. I'm really hoping if Doc Davis' comes back to this series, he'll spend some time on Cleo's origins or give her a side story. Same goes for Deuce. I'd really like a story where Cleo and Deuce team up to find a disappeared Rabbit and Captain Mbele!
We also have the Red Dragons returning to play on team bad guy, which I enjoy because the image of a Welsh drug gang as the terror of outer space is never getting old. More front and center is a mysterious assassin who keeps showing up to cause pain and discontent for the crew. I would tell you more about this guy but... Well you'll have to read the book. That said Mr. Wu is our main big bad and very central to the plot, despite not showing up very often. Not only does the plot turn on Captain Mbele trying to figure out just how to do this job without dying or ending up in a jail cell but on him constantly trying to dig up something... Anything he can use on the rich manic threatening to take away his ship and home. We also get to see just how insane Captain Mbele can be as each revelation has more and more people telling him to break off and take up something safer to do with his time... Like boxing rabid tigers maybe... Only for Mbele to double down. It's another clue to Captain Mbele's mental state where he can't back down and just can't shut his mouth. Not only does he have to insist on taking actions that increase his chances of getting kill but he has to talk shit to everyone while he does it. Frankly it's no wonder that he doesn't get a lot of repeat customers. I'm trying to figure out how he gets decent references honestly.
I'm still a bigger fan of... Everyone else on the ship then Captain Mbele but I do find myself better disposed towards him, which is a good thing. If you enjoyed Firefly, or you like the Han Solo who shot first (which is of course the ONLY HAN SOLO AND EVERYTHING ELSE YOU HEARD IS A FILTHY LIE!) you'll like this book. If you're like me and you need to be able to sympathize with your protagonists, you'll like this book better then Glowgems for Profit (although you should still read that!). Thieves Profit gets a B+.
Next week we return to graphic novels with the award winning Artesia