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Kiss Kill Vanish

by Jessica Martinez

After 17-year-old Valentina Cruz witnesses her boyfriend Emilio shooting a man on the orders of her wealthy and respected art-dealer father, she abandons her privileged life in Miami and runs away to Montreal, where she assumes the name Jane and ekes out a hand-to-mouth existence busking with her mandolin.Kiss Kill Vanish

When the novel opens, Valentina is already in Montreal: the backstory is told through flashbacks. After being noticed outside a subway station by a rich painter  named Lucien, Valentina begins to work as his model. Not much happens in the book’s early chapters beyond the establishment of their relationship and Valentina’s struggle to adapt to the loss of her life of luxury. This is one of the story’s biggest problems: there’s a lot of lip service paid to the idea that Valentina is more than just a spoiled, little rich girl, yet her characterization doesn’t support the claim. Even when she is down to her final dollars and can’t afford to pay rent, Valentina admits she’d still rather splurge on expensive sushi and then starve for the rest of the week than eat inferior food. She constantly thinks she’s above her situation, and rather than seeking out the reasons behind her father and Emilio’s crime, she prefers to remain blissfully ignorant.

Although satisfying in its suspense, the plot becomes increasingly far-fetched, as does the developing love triangle. Both Emilio – with whom Valentina reconnects later in the story – and Lucien are incredibly flawed (not in a tragic hero kind of way), and it’s difficult to see why Valentina would fall for either of them. Though the central mystery plot provides genuinely enjoyable tension, clumsily drawn characters and a plodding first half undermine this novel.