After 80 years of friendship, Sunshine and Felix practically live in one another’s pockets; they work together, live next door to each other, and spend most of their free time together. It’s a testament to the power of love, given that they got over that time Sunshine tried to kill the antichrist and stabbed baby Felix and when Felix bound Sunshine to Earth and held him captive with the intention of killing him. Good times. Despite their rocky start, the pair have become so entangled that psychics and telepaths can’t mentally distinguish who is who. They’ve formed a comfortable and complementary love for one another—Sunshine’s bottomless well of adoration, submissive acquiescence, and enjoyment of Felix’s barbed, bitchy tongue paired with Felix’s more subtle shows of care, growly put-upon chiding, and invasive protectiveness.
When a near-death experience leads to a kiss, the unspoken undercurrents swirling between them for decades send a lot of unexplored feelings to the surface—feelings Felix is quite happy to drown, thank you very much. Unfortunately, his brain won’t let it go, and even as he demands Sunshine forget the kiss, Felix’s mind rehashes it to the point of sending him into an emotional spiral. Between Felix’s sporadic, defensive, and belligerent communication style and Sunshine’s willingness to turn on a dime in order to do/say/think whatever Felix wants in that moment, the pair are constantly adrift in frustrated confusion. However, in the face of a curse, a monumental change in their dynamic, therapy, and deals with the Devil, their status quo is shattered and it’s up to Felix to shape what their future will be.
A Lady Who Looks Good When She’s Crying is a story with complex characters who have a complex and layered history that misses the mark for me. There are several enjoyable individual components/scenes, but they don’t quite gel together. I like Felix and Sunshine; there is a lot of emotional acreage to explore with an antichrist raised in a loving home who possesses a good heart and, for decades, has been unpacking the baggage that comes with being Lucifer’s son and loving an unrepentantly terrible being, while also not living up to societal expectations of a demon/the antichrist. He has substance abuse problems, counters feeling invisible with being a tease and leaning into demon stereotypes, and uses Sunshine as an emotional punching bag. And while Sunshine doesn’t have quite the same level of daddy issues, being one of 60 identical, assembly line style angels sent to kill Felix, feeling inadequate because he had no childhood or concept of home and family, also not being what people expect an angel to be, and being mortally afraid of his BFF’s father keeps him up many a night. The patient and straightforward mindset Sunshine is equipped with makes it easier for him to deal; whereas, the innate twistiness and darkness in Felix seems to foster mental chaos and self-destructiveness in him.
For all that, I just didn’t care about them as a couple, which sucks since the book revolves around them transitioning from friends to lovers. Part of the disconnect is that although the story is told in third person limited in Sunshine’s POV, the story revolves around Felix. Pretty much all roads lead to Felix and almost everything Sunshine does is about Felix. And because Sunshine is the Giving Tree of angel assassins, he rarely shares his needs or wants with Felix, many times mentally adjusting them to be whatever Felix needs or wants. With Felix spending the majority of the book whilin’ out, lashing out, or freaking out (leaving Sunshine to clean up his physical and emotional vomit); Sunshine being a perfect, malleable meat puppet; and the ‘old married couple’ vibes they rock, their transition into romance seems tepid and unnecessarily overwrought.
Another major disconnect is that IMO, A Lady is a standalone that leans more than stands. It’s the first book in a new series BUT is connected to several books (including two other series) in a shared universe that spin-off from one another. I didn’t know this until I finished the book, but it explains why I felt like I was missing information. History, relationships, terms etc. are sometimes presented as if I already know what they are/mean. It’s not terrible, but it’s frustrating, especially since some of the timeline information seems to contradict itself and creates another obstacle to connecting with the story. Moreover, all of the cool adventures that shape who the MCs are have already happened. It’s like the Black Widow/ Hawkeye Budapest runner—tossing out random bits of info that makes an event sound epic (and a lot more interesting than what is presently happening) and makes me feel like the best parts of the story have already been told.
There is quite a bit of this underdevelopment of engaging character/story beats for re-runs of Felix and the City episodes, and an inclination to include heavy topics with no real follow through. There’s room made for side plots/slice of life scenes that don’t add much to the narrative and/or are repetitive and use of potentially heavy issues as little more than story structure wallpaper. For example, Felix’s substance abuse is rampant and worrisome throughout the story; yet, it’s “resolved” with an ‘I’ll just drink less’ hand wave that completely ignores the fact that Felix IS an addict. Similarly, interesting characters or cases, such as the one that starts with a missing bracelet and ends withare only mentioned. It’s particularly noticeable (and frustrating) in the bracelet case because despite it taking a toll on Felix’s mental health and emotions, neither Sunshine (nor the narrative) delve into it. It’s just another of the many, many, MANY scenes showcasing Felix’s emotional instability and Sunshine’s passive, quiet care. The cases that do get in-depth treatment end up a bit meh IMO, partly due to the narrative sometimes meandering as much as Felix’s actions and emotions do. Any tension created is dissipated by Felix being Felix and Sunshine’s shambling and vacillating emotions and responses to said cases. Even the one that takes up the latter half of the book involving a missing person Lucifer wants Sunshine to find; has a distrustful teenage mage and lingers in the background too long only to rush to a conclusion.
To me A Lady feels, for lack of a better word, indistinct. There are a lot of different issues (societal and personal to the MCs) and character traits/nuances Ackerman seems to want to convey—from discrimination and work place harassment, to mental health and impotency, but the sometimes haphazard and vague way the information is divvied out (especially early on) makes the focus of the story and the MCs a bit fuzzy. Getting a firm read on Sunshine’s personality is particularly tricky as his portrayal seems to mold into whatever the narrative needs. For instance, it’s established early on that Sunshine uses the subway and has no problem with it; in fact, he enjoys people watching. Then later, he’s practically claustrophobic because foreshadowing. Had I been familiar with the MC’s appearances in the previous books, I may have understood some traits and apparent motivations more. Unhappily, my reading experience was reminiscent of having a puzzle with many of the image’s core pieces in the wrong spots; I got an idea of what it’s supposed to be but certain features are jagged or ambiguous.
To be fair, from the cover and title, I erroneously expected a more pulp novel/‘40s & ‘50s movie noir style à la “He Died with His Eyes Open”, which may have colored my perception of Felix and Sunshine after the opening case. Additionally, while I tried not to take grammatical errors and such into account since I was reading an uncorrected proof, there are just so many blatant ones that I desperately hope A Lady gets several more proofing passes because yikes. There are small grammatical errors like verb tense changes (e.g. talk instead of talked) or a missed article/preposition here or there that don’t hinder comprehension. Unfortunately, the errors get larger and harder to ignore. There are also several character misattributions that made it necessary to re-read something so I knew who was speaking/doing whatever and one where a named vampire who’d popped up several times suddenly becomes a werewolf. Another narrative disruption is missing section breaks; suddenly there’s a scene/time jump that forces me to reorient myself, which was especially annoying when the scene jumped from an important conversation/ monologue to something completely different in tone or a different day. There are also so many incorrect words used—from “addition” instead of “addiction” to “right of the night” instead of “rest of the night.” I eventually had to turn seeing them into a sort of game to make it a more positive reading experience.
To me, A Lady Who Looks Good When She’s Crying is targeted towards a specific audience. I recommend this for fans of Dan Ackerman or readers who want to see the fallout from The Kiss. I think people more familiar with Ackerman’s writing style and the characters/history will find the narrative more solid and enjoyable. That said, A Lady may be an entertaining read for some fans of the paranormal PI subgenre. There are some interesting bits of world building, social issues, and relationship dynamics; an angel “assassin” who is an adorable mess that can go from competent immortal to codependent nursemaid/wounded puppy in a millisecond; a hot mess of a demon who needs to be wrapped up in a weighted sensory blanket and rescued from himself; and a gender fluid Lucifer who effortlessly ties beings into knots.
Note some potential trigger warnings for abortion discussion/off-page abortion and a character who is roofied.