Into the Storm (and Before the Storm) (Evidence: Under Fire #0.5 & #1) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella & Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

As a storm rolls in, a team of elite Navy SEALs arrives at a remote lodge for a wilderness training exercise that becomes terrifyingly real….

Xavier Rivera planned the exercise down to the smallest detail, but he didn’t plan the arrival of archaeologist Audrey Kendrick—a woman he shared a passionate night with before betraying her in the worst way.

As the storm is unleashed on the historic lodge it becomes clear the training has been compromised. Trapped by weather, isolated by the remote wilderness, and silenced as communication with the world has been severed, unarmed SEALs face an unexpected and deadly foe.

Audrey and Xavier must set aside their distrust and desire and work together to save a team under fire and survive in a battle against the wild.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

Rachel Grant embarks upon a new series of romantic suspense novels with Into the Storm, book one in the Evidence: Under Fire series. The premise grabbed my attention immediately; a group of Navy SEALS arrives at a remote location for a top-secret training exercise only to find themselves fighting an invisible enemy, their communications severed and with a severe weather system closing in. As always, the author’s research and attention to detail are impeccable and she imparts a lot of fascinating detail by weaving it into the fabric of the story.

Before the Storm by Rachel Grant

A couple of months before Into the Storm begins, its protagonists, Audrey Kendrick and Xavier Rivera, meet (in the novella, (Before the Storm) when Xavier, a Navy SEAL trainer visits the Olympic National Park to scope out the historic Lake Olympus Lodge and surrounding area as a possible location for a top secret training mission. The chemistry that sparks between the couple is hot and intense, leading to their spending a passionate night together. A few weeks later, Audrey discovers she’s pregnant – despite the fact they’d used contraception – and decides, straight away that she’s going to keep the baby and that even if Xavier doesn’t want to be a part of their child’s life, telling him is the right thing to do. She asks the mutual friend that introduced them to ask Xavier to get in touch – and is delighted when, later that day, she bumps into Xavier at the Lodge, pleased to be able to share her news in person. But she realises something is wrong immediately; not only is Xavier in uniform (he never told her what he did for a living), he’s cold and hostile, telling her he’s filed a complaint about her because she refused to sign off on the Navy’s proposal for a training mission because she was angry that he’d rejected her. Reeling at the unjust and unfounded accusations that could tank her job and her career, Audrey doesn’t tell him about the baby.

(Note: It’s not essential to have listened to Before the Storm, as the relevant information is contained within Into the Storm).

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Subway Slayings (Memento Mori #2) by C.S. Poe

subway slayings

This title may be purhased from Amazon

Detective Everett Larkin of New York City’s Cold Case Squad has been on medical leave since catching the serial killer responsible for what the media has dubbed the “Death Mask Murders.” But Larkin hasn’t forgotten that another memento—another death—is waiting to be found.

Summer brings the grisly discovery of human remains in the subway system, but the clues point to one of Larkin’s already-open cases, so he resumes active duty. And when a postmortem photograph, akin to those taken during the Victorian Era, is located at the scene, Larkin requests aid from the most qualified man he knows: Detective Ira Doyle of the Forensic Artists Unit.

An unsolved case that suffered from tunnel vision, as well as the deconstruction of death portraits, leads Larkin and Doyle down a rabbit hole more complex than the tunnels beneath Manhattan. And if this investigation isn’t enough, both are struggling with how to address the growing intimacy between them. Because sometimes, love is more grave than murder.

Rating: A+

Clever, insightful, romantic and utterly compelling, Madison Square Murders, the first book in C.S. Poe’s Momento Mori series, was one of my favourite books of 2021. I’ve been on tenterhooks awaiting the release of the sequel, desperately hoping that lightning would strike in the same place twice – and I’m happy to say that it did, because Subway Slayings is every bit as good as – if not even better than – its predecessor. If you like the sound of the combination of brilliant, tautly-plotted mystery and delicious slow-burn romance, this is the series for you – but while the mysteries in each book are solved, there’s an overarching plotline developing and the relationship is ongoing, so make sure to start at the beginning!

Detective Everett Larkin of the Cold Case Squad has been on medical leave to recuperate from the broken arm sustained in an attack by the ‘Death Mask Killer’ at the end of Madison Square Murders. While he was in hospital waiting for surgery, he received a packet containing an old subway token and a note, its message spelled out in cut and pasted letters (like those old blackmail notes you see in the movies!) I HAVE A BETTER MEMENTO FOR YOU. COME FIND ME.”

On the nineteenth of May, exactly fifty-nine days later (because of course, Larkin would know that) and one day before he’s due to resume active duty, Larkin is called to the Fifty-Seventh Street subway station after a decomposing body is found, stuffed in a blue IKEA tote bag, in a utility closet on the platform. He’s not sure why he’s been called when this is clearly a recent homicide, but his questions are answered when the CSU detective passes him an evidence bag containing a photograph of a teenaged girl, slumped awkwardly on one of the oak benches scattered throughout the subway system. The girl appears to be asleep – or drunk or stoned – and the photo itself looks like something that would have been developed thirty or forty years ago. The real kicker, though, is what’s scrawled across the back: “Deliver me to Detective Larkin.”

After escaping the oppressive heat and awful smells down in the tunnels, but not so easily escaping the many and relentless associations – of both his own past and of the many unsolved murders his HSAM won’t let him forget – Larkin calls in expert help in the form of Ira Doyle of the Forensic Artist Unit, who confirms Larkin’s suspicions about the age of the photo but also realises something else. The girl on the bench isn’t asleep. She’s dead. And later that evening, Larkin makes an important connection with one of the cold cases that haunts him almost more than any other, the murder, on the nineteenth of May 1997, of eighteen-year-old Marco Garcia who was pushed in front of a train… at the Fifty-Seventh Street station.

“Today is the twenty-third anniversary of Marco’s death. Once is chance. Twice is coincidence.” Larkin looked up and finished with “Three time’s a pattern.”

The mystery element of Subway Slayings is clever, meticulously researched and absolutely fascinating, but it’s disturbing, too, because as Larkin and Doyle dig deeper, their discoveries lead them to more victims, all of them from one of the most vulnerable groups in society, and to a truly despicable network of people who are only too willing to exploit them. (Please note – there is nothing graphic on page, but crimes against children and young people are central to the plot.)

At the same time as the author is building her intricate mystery, she’s also presenting us with some of the most amazing  character and relationship development I think I’ve ever read. We’ve already seen how Larkin’s HSAM (hyper superior autobiographical memory) affects him in every aspect of his life; how he can become hyper focused, how difficult it is for him to remember small, day-to-day details that cause no problem for most of us, how hard he finds social interaction, how his condition makes him an embarrassment to some (his parents and soon-to-be-ex husband) or a fascinating curiosity (his doctor) – while not one of them either cares or wants to know what it’s really like to live with a brain that can never forget or switch off. How in the eighteen years since the traumatic brain injury that caused it, nobody has ever asked if he’s okay. Nobody – until now. Until Ira Doyle.

“… in eighteen years, I’ve never been happy having HSAM. Until now. Because I don’t ever want to forget how you make me feel.”

Their romantic relationship is the slowest – and sweetest – of slow burns, but it’s absolutely perfect for who these people are and where they are in their lives. They don’t do more than kiss on the page, but their chemistry is such that it feels as steamy as a full-on sex scene, and their strong emotional connection is intense and totally believable. If ever a couple deserved the label ‘soulmates’, it’s this one. Right from the start, Doyle has recognised in Larkin something to be cherished and cared for, and the way he does both those things, his patience and simple, undemanding acceptance of Larkin and everything he is, is an utter joy to read. Doyle is one of those people whose presesnce and smile can light up a room; he’s warm and charming and funny – and very, very good at what he does, with an innate ability to put people at their ease and encourage confidences in a way Larkin can never do. There were hints in the previous book, though, that there’s a lot of grief and pain lying behind that equanimous exterior, and in this one, this finally clicks into place for Larkin, and he realises that this man he’s coming to care for a very great deal – maybe even to love – is still sometihng of a mystery to him.

For being such a decorated officer, Larkin really was a piss-poor detective when it came to understanding the one man, potentially the only man, who’d come to matter.

There is an incredibly insightful passage – too long to quote here in full – in which Larkin thinks about the way contemporary society views death, especially the death of children (Doyle lost his daughter, Abigail, some years earlier – we still don’t know what happened), how people just don’t ask, or don’t listen to those who are grieving, because they can’t handle it – and realises just how deeply Doyle’s hurt must run, that his constant activity and congenial, sunshiny demeanour are covering up a broken heart.

When they’d all turned their backs, because a child’s wake was too much to see, a father’s cries too difficult to hear, there’d been no one left to listen.

The funeral pall had been draped.

The mourning veil lowered.

And Ira Doyle had become… a mystery.

My heart broke a little, then, too. In fact, it broke a little several times while I was reading this book; I was completely and utterly floored by the degree of emotional intelligence and pinpoint insight that leaps from its pages in a way that is absolutely consistent with its characters and their situation. This isn’t authorial pontificating or info-dumping, it’s focused and woven into the very fabric of who these men are – broken, but doing the best they can in a world that doesn’t really understand them – or want to.

For all the darkness of the mystery and the exploration of grief and loss, Subway Slayings is certainly not without its lighter moments. Doyle’s gentle sense of humour, Larkin’s deadpan snark and their good-natured banter are much in evidence, and their quiet moments together – some of Larkin’s thoughts about Doyle are achingly beautiful – really are food for the heart and soul.

The Memento Mori series is shaping up to become one of my favourite series ever. The plots are clever and complex with lots of moving parts that C.S. Poe skilfully corrals into something gripping and cohesive, the two leads are damaged and intensely loveable and their evolving relationship is a thing of beauty.

Subway Slayings left me with the best kind of book hangover and goes straight on to the keeper shelf – it will undoubtedly be making an appearance on my Best of 2022 list. Book three, Broadway Butchery, is set for release in Spring 2023; I’ll be counting the days.

A Fault Against the Dead (The First Quarto #4) by Gregory Ashe

a fault against the dead

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Drugs. Sex. Murder. And, if they can squeeze it in, graduation.

When Auggie Lopez returns to Wahredua for his senior year of college, he’s excited about the future: he’s growing his brand as an influencer, he’s almost done with school, and he’s building a life with his boyfriend, Theo. Then Auggie gets a phone call from Howard Cartwright, Theo’s ex—and Cart tells Auggie he’s being framed for murder.

As Auggie and Theo begin to look into the death of a local parole officer, they realize something isn’t right. A gang of armed men almost catches them while they’re searching the victim’s home, a threatening message spray-painted on the victim’s home suggests a personal vendetta, and everyone wants to know about a missing cache of money. The trail leads Auggie and Theo into the dangerous world of the Ozark Volunteers—the local white supremacists who control the region’s drug trade.

After Theo and Auggie are attacked at home, they learn that the stakes might be much, much higher: someone is determined to put a stop to their investigation, no matter what it takes. And the killer, Theo and Auggie suspect, is hiding behind a badge.

Rating: A

It’s Auggie’s final year and Theo’s last year as a grad student at Wroxall College in this final instalment in Gregory Ashe’s The First Quarto series. But of course, there’s no way it’s going to be an easy year for our favourite trouble-magnets. Not only are they once again up to their necks in a complicated and extremely dangerous murder investigation, but their romantic relationship is still undergoing teething problems and is confronted with what is possibly its toughest challenge yet – and no, I’m not talking about the scale of Auggie’s Doritos habit.

As A Fault Against the Dead is book four in a series, it won’t make much sense if you aren’t familiar with what’s gone before; the mysteries in each book are self-contained, but the central relationship is ongoing and there are a number of recurring characters and references to previous situations, so it’s best to go back to the beginning and start with They Told Me I Was Everything. Gregory Ashe’s incredible ability to tell a story, the tight, complex plots and damaged but intensely loveable main characters will make it worth your while.

The mystery plot here kicks off when Auggie unexpectedly gets a phone call from Howard Cartwright, Theo’s late husband’s partner on the job and Theo’s former fuckbuddy, who tells Auggie he’s been arrested for the murder of a local parole officer. Their visit to Cart in jail is awkward to say the least, but boils down to the fact that someone has framed Cart for murder – and he needs Theo and Auggie to find out who and why.

As if that wasn’t enough, their old nemesis, Detective Albert Lender, doesn’t waste any time in catching up with them after they’ve been to see Cart. To their surprise, he actually seems to want them to investigate further – although of course, it doesn’t take long for it to become apparent that there’s something in it for him, namely, a large sum of cash which has gone missing. He wants Theo and Auggie to find it.

The devious mind of Gregory Ashe has come up with a real doozy here as Theo and Auggie are plunged into the murky world of the local drug trade while the complicated web of lies, blackmail and murder becomes even more tangled and the threats to life and limb pile up. Not only is Lender breathing down their necks, they’ve got to contend with angry, violent drug dealers, a dodgy sherrif and someone who seems to have more clout and more at stake than even Lender does – who is trying to force them to stop their investigation

All that would be more than enough for any couple to handle, but Theo and Auggie are still dealing with some intensely personal issues that mean they’re really not singing from the same hymn sheet as far as their relationship is concerned. They’ve both been through such a lot in their relatively young lives, and Theo’s largely untreated trauma, specifically, is continuing to throw up barriers between them. The conflict here is signalled early on when Auggie makes an offhand comment about where they’ll be this time next year, and Theo subtly freezes. In the previous book (The Fairest Show) the conflict was mainly about the way Theo’s desperate need to keep Auggie safe was causing him to disregard Auggie’s feelings and wishes, and how Theo needed to recognise that Auggie is an adult and to start treating him as one. Theo seems to have been working on that, but the other – much bigger – issue that has always been lurking in the background, and which led to some of the poor life choices Theo has made (his drinking, his addiction to pain medication among others) finally blows up in their faces – namely his belief that, at thirty-two, he’s washed up. (In fact, he’s believed that all the way through the series.) He’s been struggling financially since his husband Ian died, he’s burdened with terrible guilt over the accident that killed Ian and left their daughter, Lana, disabled – he’s carrying guilt over the death, years before, of his brother Luke from an overdose, he’s estranged from his very conservative family because he’s gay… and then into his life comes Auggie, beautiful, charming, funny, clever (young) Auggie, so full of life and the one bright thing in Theo’s life, and all Theo has ever really done is get Auggie hurt and drag him down. (As Theo sees it.) I’m indebted to a poster over at the author’s Facebook group for their insight into Theo’s responses to trauma – of which he’s suffered great deal in a fairly short time – which helped me to a clearer understanding than I had of why Theo thinks and acts as he does, why he is so convinced he’s doing the right thing by trying to wrap Auggie up in cotton wool, or continually avoiding any discussion of their future together. He’s lost (or been rejected by) everyone he’s ever loved, and contemplating a future or happiness (or a happy future) is incredibly difficult for him because hurt and pain has been the default for so very long.

Auggie is coming at the relationship from completely the opposite direction. His own upbringing is driving him to want stability and commitment – although he doesn’t quite realise how those two situations are linked yet. The youngest of three brothers, all with different dads, and with a mother who is so self-centred that she doesn’t really care about any of them, he’s really been brought up by his oldest brother, Fer, who is Theo’s age, and who, despite his constant stream of funny and inventive insults, clearly adores Auggie and would do anything for him. The age gap and parental role, however, mean that Fer is just as guilty, in his own way, as Theo is of shielding Auggie, and that he, also like Theo, has tried to keep certain things and realities from Auggie in order to protect him. The instability of Auggie’s home life (which we saw some of in The Fairest Show) and dysfuctionality of his family is clearly driving his need to make plans, when Theo’s life is – and can only be – about the now. With two such diametrically opposed positions, it’s really hard to see how they are ever going to be able to reconcile them, and it’s heartbreaking to watch as the gulf between them grows, as Auggie’s frustration with his boyfriend’s attitude starts turning into resentment and Theo’s walls get thicker and higher.

Gregory Ashe is a master of writing characters you can easily fall in love with while at the same time wanting to defenestrate them, and also of being able to combine a complex plot composed of lots of moving parts with some really profound character and relationship development. He reveals so much about who these men are and where they’re coming from, often in just a short speech or moment of description, and despite the heavy subject matter, there’s still room for humour and good-natured banter, a bit of steam and moments of amazing tenderness and understanding.

A lot of that humour comes from Auggie’s interactions with Fer – who is one of those characters who has taken on a life of his own and become a firm reader favourite (many of us are really hoping Mr. Ashe can find a story for him!) – and I loved seeing a clean Chuy (the middle brother) and Auggie having a genuine, affectionate and adult conversation. It was bittersweet, though, to see the brother Chuy could have been (to both Fer and Auggie), and their big scene together is key to giving Auggie some real insight into Theo’s mindset as an addict and how that might be affecting his attitude towards the future.

Although we’re saying goodbye to Theo and Auggie – for now (they’ll be back in the planned Asheverse crossover, tentativelty titled Iron on Iron) – we leave them in a much better place, with a better understanding of each other, and an incredibly sweet demonstration on Theo’s part of his commitment to Auggie and to doing the work he needs to do on himself so that they can move forward together. Having seen them five years on in the most recent Hazard and Somerset series, he’s certainly made progress. (And speaking of H&S, Somers’ cameos in this book show we’re almost caught up with Pretty Pretty Boys in the Wahredua timeline.)

A Fault Against the Dead brings The First Quarto series to a satisfying close by way of a tense, nail-biting climax which will have readers on the edge of their seats (or reading through their fingers!) and then follows it up with a beautifully understated and hopeful HEA. Theo and Auggie have become two of my favourite Asheverse characters, so while I’m sorry to see them metaphorically riding off into the sunset into a much quieter life, I’m delighted they’ve been given the happy ending they deserve.

Small side note: I’m probably in the minority, but I’m not a fan of the new covers for the series; the type is incredibly hard to read against the dark background, and is practically invisible in thumbnails. )

The Spooky Life (Spectral Files #4) by S.E. Harmon (Audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

the spooky life

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Rain Christiansen isn’t sure he’ll ever fully understand the supernatural. But he’s finally finding his groove as a reluctant medium and cold-case detective. That’s not to say everything is going smoothly—there’s a wedding in the works, after all. He’s finally taking that enormous step with fellow detective, Daniel McKenna, and he couldn’t be happier . . . about the marriage. Not so much the wedding. The hoopla is enough to make him wish for a quick flight to Vegas and an Elvis officiant.

At least work is keeping Rain and the PTU plenty busy. Their latest case involves Hannah Caldwell, a silent ghost who can’t—or won’t—speak. She still manages to request that they find her dear friend, Cherry Parker, so that she can say goodbye. Piece of cake. Finding people is pretty high on the list of things that Rain does best.

But when it comes to ghosts, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Before long, his simple missing person’s case takes a dark and twisted turn. And Rain realizes he’s been so busy trying to protect Danny that he forgot to protect himself.

If he doesn’t turn things around—and quickly—his spooky life might be cut short for good.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – C+

When we last saw Detectives Rain Christiansen and Danny McKenna – at the end of Spooky Business – they’d narrowly survived being murdered by a vengeful ghost, and just got engaged. When we encounter them again here, they’re well into planning their wedding… or rather, Danny’s mother is well into planning it and is insisting on dragging the two of them (kicking and screaming metaphorically at least) into it as well. Like the other books in the Spectral Files series, The Spooky Life combines a supernatural mystery with the ongoing development of the central relationship, but although Rain’s snarky voice is as entertaining as ever, the mystery feels a bit thin and the whole wedding-planning-thing seems, at times, to have taken over. That trope – the everyone-else-wants-to-plan-our-wedding one – is one I have little patience with; not only do I not understand why people spend a fortune on weddings, I don’t understand why two grown men in their late thirties can’t – politely – tell everyone to just butt out and let them do it their way.

Rain is on a visit to a possible wedding venue with Mrs. McKenna and quietly wishing the ground would open and swallow him up, when he notices a woman walking around under a decorative arch, a lonely ghost who seems to be in a world of her own. Managing to escape from his prospective mother-in-law and the very eager venue manager, Rain makes his way over to the spirit and introduces himself; to his surprise she doesn’t speak – usually the ghosts who find Rain won’t shut up – so he thinks that perhaps she’s ready to move on but is stuck for some reason and decides to help her to do so. When that doesn’t work, Rain realises that perhaps she can’t move on because of unfinished business and wants him to go somewhere. Sigh.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


Note:  This is the second book in a row I’ve listened to by this author in which she has put a “disclaimer” in her author’s note (in the ebook version) to the effect that she’s not responsible for plot holes:

“Plot holes? Perhaps. Despite the best efforts of my beta readers, my editor, and myself, there are probably a few errors that we didn’t catch. It happens.”

Um… no. Typos can get through even the best proof readers, we know that.  But STORY CONTENT is the province of the author and it’s up to them to – in collaboration with their editor where warranted – work through any content issues so that the story proceeds smoothly.  Apologising in advance because you couldn’t be bothered to fix the plot holes you’ve created for yourself is disrespectful to your readers and lazy writing.  I’m on the fence about whether I’ll bother picking up another book by this author.

Petty Crimes by Eden Winters

petty crimes

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Why can’t life give him a break?

Five years ago, Jerry Wilkerson was running with a biker gang, making mistake after mistake, till he ended up in the hospital with a gunshot wound, facing criminal charges for drug distribution. On top of everything, he’d fallen in love with the narcotics agent who took them all down. Or rather, with Cyrus Cooper, the man that agent pretended to be.

Making a deal with the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau kept Jerry out of jail, sending him undercover as Brody Jenson, a petty criminal able to get into places other agents can’t. He’s satisfied with his life—or would be if he wasn’t still longing for someone who never existed.

Then a man steps out of his dreams and into his life, who’s everything Jerry ever wanted.

Except for the part where Jerry might have to arrest him.

Rating: B+

Way back in February (it feels like a very LONG time ago!) in AAR’s blog post about Best Belated Reads of 2021, one of my choices was Eden Winters’ nine-book Diversion series, which coupled an extremely well-crafted opposites-attract romance with some superbly-well conceived and written mystery/suspense plots. I listened to the series, and if you do audiobooks and enjoy romantic suspense, I highly recommend it (you can get the whole series in 3 box sets at time of writing – bargain!). It’s become an all-time favourite, so I was delighted when the author announced she was writing another book set in that world, this time, putting a secondary character from the series into the spotlight. Petty Crimes is a thoroughly entertaining read with a clever plot, an engaging central character and a steamy romance; and although it can be read as a standalone, you’ll enjoy the relationship dynamics more if you’ve read at least some of the Diversion books.

A few years earlier, Bo Schollenberger – now the boss at the Southern Narcotics Bureau’s Division of Diversion and Control (the government agency responsible for rooting out criminality in the pharmaceutical industry) – went undercover with a dangerous biker gang in an operation that almost cost him his life. One member of the gang was Jerry Wilkerson, a nineteen-year-old kid who kind of drifted into hanging around with them and developed a massive crush on Bo’s alter-ego, Cyrus Cooper. In the climax of that story, Jerry helped save Bo and Lucky’s lives and got shot in the process; waking in hospital, he was offered the chance to get his life back on track by tesitfying against the gang members and then working for the SNB. Five years later he’s mostly working undercover as lowlife Brody Jenson, a petty criminal whose skillset lay in crawling into the city’s underbelly, lifting the rocks to find the worms beneath and who has turned being underestimated into an art form. He’s good at his job, but he’s also struggling a bit; living a double life is tiring and lonely, and he even finds himself starting to confuse Brody with Jerry at times.

After wrapping his current case, Jerry – as Brody – heads to his local bar, just to be seen around. Nursing a solitary drink, Jerry spies a few familiar faces – and one new and very interesting one, a tall, dark, gorgeous leather-clad biker he certainly wouldn’t mind getting up close and personal with. He keeps a surreptitious eye on the guy – no hardship – for a while, watches him score from a local dealer and then leave. Oh, well.

Bo and his husband Lucky (Jerry’s immediate boss) bring Jerry in on a new case involving an opoid medication being prescribed regularly and without due diligence by a number of doctors who are clearly in the pay of the pharmaceutcal company manufacturing it. ‘Brody’ is set up with an appointment with one of those doctors where he’s to plead severe knee pain owing to an injury and walk away with some evidence in the form of a prescription. Sure enough, he’s given one for a new, highly addictive painkiller without so much as an examination, but when he exits the pharmacy after getting the scrip filled, he notices a black Harley Davidson across the street, identical to one he’d spotted at the scene of an op just a day or so earlier, its rider’s face concealed behind a smoked face shield.

Jerry decides it’s time to find out who’s been tailing him, so he heads back to the bar and sure enough, the hot biker is there, shooting pool. A few heated glances later, Jerry and the mystery man are in the alley out back, and Jerry’s getting the best blow job of his life. When it’s over, the guy gives him a kiss and disappears – until a few days later when he plops himself down next to Jerry at the bar, introduces himself as Nico di Silva, and asks Jerry to arrange a private meeting with Bo and Lucky.

It turns out that Nico is – independently – investigating Monumental Pharmaceuticals following the death of his best friend, a former employee, who is widely believed to have died of an overdose, but whom Nico is convinced was murdered. He offers information on Monumental’s operation in return for an ‘in’ on the SNB’s investigation – and although Bo and Lucky are sceptical, they agree, and Jerry is assigned to work with him.

I loved being back in the world of the SNB. The suspense plotline is interesting and complex without being confusing and there’s plenty of action, humour and steam along the way. I really liked Jerry, who is a flawed but likeable central character; he’s tough and full of attitude and snark but there’s an attractive vulnerability to him, a longing for love and affection even as he doesn’t really believe he’s worthy of it. He’s had a tough life, growing up dirt poor with a father in prison and a mother who was never around because she was working to support them, but he’s worked hard to turn his life around and mostly likes where he’s at. He’s like Lucky in some ways – his skill and intelligence, his smart mouth and his ability to get the job done – but he’s not a Lucky-clone, which I appreciated. Their relationship is one of the best things in the book; it’s more than mentor and mentee, although Lucky would rather die than admit to actually liking Jerry!

Nico is a man layered in secrets. A former Army Ranger who worked for both Homeland Security and the Justice Department, his lone quest for vigilante justice doesn’t quite ring true with the SNB guys, but there’s no doubting his abilities or the accuracy of his information. The story is told entirely from Jerry’s PoV, which works to preserve the element of mystery that surrounds Nico and his actions during the initial stages of the novel, as we wonder, along with Jerry, about his true motives. It’s well done, but it also makes Nico somewhat remote so it’s difficult to buy that he’d fall for Jerry so fast. By contrast, Jerry’s feelings are really well articulated; his longing for connection and someone he can just be himself with, the insecurities that tell him he’s not worth sticking around for, and how fast he’s falling. The sparks fly thick and fast, the chemistry sizzles and their sexual encounters are hot enough to peel paint, but there is a relationship developing here, one between two men who enjoy each other’s company and come to realise that they have more in common than they could have imagined. By the end of the book, it’s clear they’re each exactly what the other needs.

Petty Crimes is a fabulous addition to the Diversion world, a skilfully blended mixture of exciting mystery and sexy romance wrapped up in a blanket of snarky humour, together with a chance for fans to re-visit some much loved characters. I really enjoyed it and heard, while I was reading, the excellent news that the author is working on a sequel. I can’t wait!

Home Work (Life Lessons #3) by Kaje Harper (audiobook) – Narrated by J.F. Harding

Home Work Audio2This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Murder, trauma, and raising children—who said love was easy?

Mac and Tony thought the hard part was over. They’re together openly as a couple, sharing a home and building a life with their two kids. It’s what they dreamed of.

But daughter Anna struggles with the changes, Ben is haunted by old secrets, Mac’s job in Homicide still demands too much of his time, and Tony is caught in the middle. It’ll take everything these men can give to create a viable balance between home and work. Especially when life refuses to give them a break.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

Home Work is the third book in Kaje Harper’s fabulous mystery/romance Life Lessons series, and as it’s a continuation of Tony and Mac’s story, is not a standalone. This is a series that should be listened to in order and there are spoilers for the story so far in this review.

In Breaking Cover, Tony and Mac were faced with a number of difficult choices after Tony became the legal guardian of six-year-old Ben, the boy to whom he’d been a father in all but name since his birth. With Tony, a single, gay man, under intense scrutiny due to the ensuing custody case and not wanting to lie about their relationship, Mac faced some incredibly difficult decisions, which culminated in his coming out at work, then moving in with Tony and Ben and bringing his five-year-old daughter, Anna, to live with them.

Now, the four of them are a family, although life is far from plain sailing. Anna is struggling to adjust from living with her (ultra-conservative) aunt, Ben is doing better but clearly holding back about something that’s bothering him, Mac is still letting his job run his life – and Tony is stuck in the middle, working full-time, running their home and doing the bulk of the childcare, and he’s frazzled. He’s never been one to hold back when something is important to him and he wishes Mac was around more often do his share of all those mundane tasks that go along with making a home and family – but Mac is having a tough time at work, dealing with the fall out of coming out and colleagues who, once friendly, are now openly hostile, and Tony doesn’t want to add to the stress Mac is already under by pressuring him to be home (or home on time) more. But Tony knows things can’t go on this way forever – the problem is finding the right time to address it. If, given how much of Mac’s identity and sense of self is tied up with his being a cop, there is ever going to be a right time.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Unstable Connections (Valor & Doyle #3) by Nicky James

unstable connections

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Missing children are reappearing, and ties to a thirty-year-old cold case can’t be ignored.

Between his shaky, brand-new relationship with reformed office playboy Detective Aslan Doyle, his sister’s case going from cold to hot overnight, his father insisting on being involved, and his boss breathing down his neck, Detective Quaid Valor is on edge.

The stress of the case is impacting Quaid’s whole life. He isn’t eating or sleeping, and every time he and Aslan are together, he is overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, which threaten to ruin the one good thing he has. Aslan’s patience seems unending until something happens to turn his life upside down too.

Can their relationship survive the personal and professional pressures they’re facing, or will it crash and burn?

Between media rumors and unstable connections, Quaid and his team need to work quickly to piece together a complicated case before more children fall victim to their unknown serial kidnapper. Maybe once everything is solved, Aslan and Quaid will have time to work on their rocky relationship and find stable ground once again.

Rating: A

Wow – that was intense! This latest instalment in Nicky James’ Valor and Doyle series had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish; Unstable Connections is another compelling read that once again weaves together an absolutely gripping mystery plot with the continuing development of the relationship between the leads who, at the end of Elusive Relations, agreed they wanted more from each other than just sex, and are now a couple.

This series needs to be read in order so as to fully understand the relationship dynamics, and while each of the previous books has featured a self-contained mystery, certain overarching plotlines that have been bubbling along in the background reach a conclusion here, so this is not the place to jump in. Oh, and Spoilers Ahoy!

At the end of the previous book, the author dropped one helluva bombshell when eight-year-old Lili Vacari, who had been missing for four months, suddenly reappeared – and was carrying the backpack belonging to Quaid’s sister, who was abducted thirty years earlier. This news – naturally – hits Quaid incredibly hard, and sends him deep down a rabbit hole to the point of obsession; he’s not eating or sleeping well, he’s at his desk more often than not, and his colleagues are becoming concerned for him. It’s his partner, Eden, who finally calls in the big guns – Aslan – but while he’s just as concerned, he’s not sure how much more he can do. He knows Quaid and how much this case means to him, and is doing his absolute best to provide as much support as he can. He encourages Quaid to eat and sleep, offers the best type of distraction – sex – and someone to bounce ideas off… but he knows there are lines he can’t – and shouldn’t – cross. Quaid’s a grown man, Aslan isn’t his keeper, and he’s not about to torpedo their relationship by “taking a stance on Juniper”. He does, however, manage to drag Quaid away from the office on this particular Saturday – his birthday – long enough to get some sleep and get spruced up for dinner with his dad. Aslan is a bit nervous about meeting Abraham Valor in a social setting and as his son’s boyfriend; the two of them know each other by sight and reputation of course, but unfortunately for Aslan, his reputation as the department playboy means Valor Sr. sees him as someone else who might hurt Quaid. But after some initial frostiness, things settle and they begin to enjoy their meal – then a call from Quaid’s partner Eden throws another rock into the pond. Another missing little girl has just been found in the same location as Lily – and there’s no way this is a coincidence. Somehow the disappearances of these three little girls – Juniper, thirty years ago, Lily, and now Evelyn Rice – have to be connected, but how?

I’m not going to say any more, only that the author pulls it all together brilliantly as Aslan, Quaid and his colleagues in the MPU slowly begin to piece together the full picture by combining new information with everything Quaid has gained over years of painstaking research into his sister’s case. Juniper’s disappearance has been the framework for Quaid’s entire career; he followed his father’s footsteps into the police force and then became a detective in the Missing Persons Unit with the aim of preventing other families from going through what his did, and to be able to continue to investigate his sister’s disappearance with a view to getting some answers and closure for his dad.

Quaid’s tunnel vision has not only got him into hot water with his boss, who is close to pulling him off the case, it’s also causing problems in his fledgling relationship with Aslan. They’ve spent hardly any time together since deciding to give a relationship a try, but fortunately for Quaid, Aslan is a good guy who knows how much this case means to Quaid and is doing his absolute best to support him through it. Still, it’s hard to watch Quaid running himself into the ground – and to see what being so stressed out is doing to him psychologically. Aslan knows Quaid’s ex did a real number on him and seriously damaged his self-esteem, and knows that isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, but this case is also confirming just how many of Quaid’s insecurities and feelings of inadequacy can be traced back to Juni’s abduction when he was just six years old; how his fears of abandonment all stem from being pretty much forgotten in all the furore that surrounded it and then the breakdown of his family when his mother left a few months later. Aslan knows how much Quaid fears not being enough, that he believes that showing vulnerability is unattractive and that his neediness will drive Aslan away – but he’s prepared to wait out the storm because he’s recognised that what he has with Quaid – and the man himself – is worth it. But it’s not going to be easy.

While everything in Quaid’s life has been turned upside down, Aslan is also having a tough time balancing life and work as he and his partner Torin Fox find themselves juggling almost more cases than they can handle. I liked the realistic approach here; Aslan might want to drop everything to help Quaid, but he can’t because he has his own job to do, and to have it otherwise would have stretched my creduilty a bit too far. The pressure they’re both under is palpable and the author does a fantastic job of building the tension throughout this story; there’s little let up, and even when Quaid and Aslan do get some alone time, there’s a constant sense of unease, especially on Quaid’s part, as he allows his insecurities to start to get the better of him. And then, out of the blue, comes something with the potential to shatter Aslan’s world, too – no spoilers, but your heart will be in your throat and if you’ve got any nails left by this point, you won’t have many left after!

There are a number of other interesting relationships in the story, principally Quaid’s with his dad, which has so far seemed loving and solid, but is here revealed to have been built on some pretty shaky foundations. Abraham Valor’s guilt over what happened to his daughter is buried deep and has never been addressed – he and Quaid never talk about Juniper – and some of the effects of that guilt and its long denial are quite ugly.

I loved the way Quaid’s colleagues – his partner Eden and two other MPU detectives, Allison Bright (Torin’s crush – watching him flounder like a schoolboy trying to ask her on a date is so cute!) and Erik Travolta – rally round with support, and even Costa Ruiz, the IT specialist who, in the previous book, came across as a homophobic dickhead, turns out to be a good guy in the end; maybe he’s never going to go on a Pride march, but he and Quaid establish a good working relationship peppered with snarky banter, and there’s the sense that they might actually come to like each other one day.

Unstable Connections further cements the Valor and Doyle Mysteries as an all-time favourite series, and will undoubtedly be making an appearance on my Best of 2022 list. The plotting is tight, the pacing is swift and relentless and Nicky James does a fantastic job of wrapping up all the plotlines she’s seeded throughout. This events of this story really put Valor and Doyle’s romantic relationship to the test, and while they clearly still have a way to go, there’s every indication that they’ll get there. Plus, I’m a sucker for the player-falls-hard-and-forever trope, and Aslan shows himself to be boyfriend material of the highest calibre.

So it’s on to the DIK shelf for this one – and looking ahead to January 2023 and the release of book four, Inevitable Disclosure. It can’t come soon enough!

Trailer Park Trickster (Adam Binder #2) by David R. Slayton (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael David Axtell

trailer part trickster

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

They are my harvest, and I will reap them all.

Returning to Guthrie, Oklahoma, for the funeral of his mysterious and beloved aunt, Sue, Adam Binder once again finds himself in the path of deadly magic when a dark druid begins to prey on members of Adam’s family. It all seems linked to the death of Adam’s father many years ago – a man who may have somehow survived as a warlock.

Watched by the police, separated from the man who may be the love of his life, compelled to seek the truth about his connection to the druid, Adam learns more about his family and its troubled history than he ever bargained for, and finally comes face-to-face with the warlock he has vowed to stop.

Meanwhile, beyond the Veil of the mortal world, Argent the Queen of Swords and Vic the Reaper undertake a dangerous journey to a secret meeting of the Council of Races…where the sea elves are calling for the destruction of humanity.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

David R. Slayton’s White Trash Warlock introduced us to Adam Binder, a likeable, complex and damaged young man with magical abilities – but rather than making him the strongest warlock who ever warlocked, the author gave him frustratingly mediocre powers, and it was a refreshing change, in this genre, to have a lead character who is, well, pretty  ordinary.

In that book, Adam saved the life of a young cop – Vic – and in doing so, inadvertantly created a magical bond between them that means they’re able to feel each other’s emotions and sometimes even hear each other’s thoughts. Their relationship was turning romantic, Vic for the first time really accepting his bisexuality in the nature of his feelings for Adam, while at the same time realising that Adam wasn’t sure if those feelings were real or had been created along with the bond.

At the end of the book, Adam received the news that his great aunt Sue – who had taken care of him since he left the ‘school’ (read: asylum) to which he’d been committed – had died suddenly, and he went haring off back to Oklahoma without telling anyone – not his brother Bobby (with whom he’s finally starting to have a proper relationship) and not Vic who, at the beginning of the book, is understandably upset by this. He decides to follow Adam, but is waylaid by Argent (the sister of Silver, Adam’s (elven) first love) and they end up on a warped kind of road trip through the elf kingdoms and get caught up in some nasty political shenanigans. Meanwhile in Oklahoma, Adam is reunited with Sue’s daughter Noreen and his cousin Jody – who are both toxic; when an explosion kills Noreen, Adam’s investigation leads him to believe that to believe that someone – a powerful druid – is offing his relatives, and it’s up to him to work out exactly who it is and stop them.

I enjoyed Trailer Park Trickster, but wasn’t as completely captivated by it as I was by White Trash Warlock.  I like Adam and Vic as individuals and as a couple, and I liked Adam learning more about his family history, and seeing his growing maturity in the way he approaches the druid issue, but I didn’t really understand the significance of the Vic/Argent storyline at this point, other than as a device to keep Adam and Vic apart for almost the entire book.  They have only two scenes together – and one of those is of them having a row – and there is no development of their relationship here.  Given the way their bond was formed (and what it means!), Adam’s guilt about it and doubts about the nature of Vic’s feelings for him, and Vic’s determination to prove to Adam that what he feels for him is because of him, Adam, and not the bond, I’d have expected at least some further exploration of it – but there’s nothing. When Vic learns about one of the big secrets Adam has been keeping:

(spoiler – highlight to read)
that Bobby and their mother killed Binder Sr. because he was violent and likely to kill Adam, and he didn’t want Vic to know because Vic’s a cop and a straight-up guy who would need to do the right thing and arrest Bobby

he’s understandably upset (hence the row) – but they don’t really talk it through and instead, Vic decides to be okay with it after receiving a visit from

(spoiler – highlight to read)
his own father’s ghost.

The romance is so underdeveloped that the declarations that preceed the final showdown come out of nowhere and feel like they’ve been shoved in just for the sake of it. The lack of relationship development – and of character depth and development as a whole – made it difficult for me to become invested in the story. I’m aware this is an urban fantasy story with ‘romantic elements’ so I wasn’t expecting a full-blown romance, but I was hoping that the author would build upon what he’d started in book one, and he doesn’t. When the book description itself suggests that Vic may be the love of Adam’s life, I think we deserve a bit more than a blazing row and some awkward ILYs.

I found both storylines intriguing, but the stakes didn’t feel anywhere near as high as in the first book. I continue to like Adam, who is both relatable and heroic in his determination to get to the bottom of what is going on despite his fears, misgivings and insecurities, although I couldn’t help wondering how, if his magical ability is so slight – and given his powers seem to be mostly psychic in nature – he is able to defeat much stronger magic. The magical system that operates in this world lacks clarity, and Vic’s new status as a reaper, which only comes into play at the very end, is still largely unexplained.

The narration by Michael David Axtell is, again, excellent, and is mostly why I’ve bumped the rating up into the B range. His pacing and character differentiation are good, his vocal characterisations are nicely judged and the characters who appeared in book one are portrayed consistently. He does a really good job of conveying the various aspects of Adam’s character – his determination and his vulnerability – and his interpretation of Vic is good, too, with a firm steadiness to his tone that works really well to depict the confident young man he is. Mr. Axtell’s female voices are pretty good overall, and the harsh, accented delivery adopted for Noreen and Jody is a good fit for who these women are, spiteful, bigoted and all-round unpleasant.

I put off listening to this for so long because I knew it ended on a cliffhanger and decided to hold off until I could listen to book three (out in October). I’ll definitely be listening to Deadbeat Druid because, while I know I’ve said quite a few negative things in this review, I do like the characters and the stories and I really want to find out how things turn out. Fingers crossed that book will be as good as White Trash Warlock, and I’ll be able to put the disappointments of Trailer Park Trickster down to middle-book-itis.

Bad Bishop (Perfect Play #2) by Layla Reyne

bad bishop

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a marriage of convenience becomes more than either husband bargained for…

Special Agent Levi Bishop needs to:
Keep his son and family safe.
Prove his boss was framed for a crime she didn’t commit.
Convince his selfless cowboy husband that his needs matter too.
Make a bold play before love slips through his fingers.

Special Agent Emmitt Marshall needs to:
Protect his husband and stepson.
End the nightmare that’s haunted him since his mentor’s murder.
Hack through layers of deception to identify the real threat.
Stop hoping someone will choose him.

Marsh is determined to go it alone, to guard his family and his heart.
But Levi’s life and heart are on the line too.
Cornered, Levi will chance any play to save the marriage and man he needs.
Rings were exchanged and promises made.
Marsh kept up his end of the bargain.
Now it’s Levi’s turn.

Rating: B

Bad Bishop is the second book in Layla Reyne’s Perfect Play trilogy, and if you haven’t read book one, Dead Draw, it won’t make a great deal of sense; this is a ‘same couple’ series with one overarching plotline, so the books need to be read in order.

Bad Bishop picks up just a few hours after Dead Draw ended, with Marsh and Levi realising that their enemies have upped the stakes of the game. The suddenness of all the upheaval has thrown a wrench in the middle of the couple’s burgeouning relationship; both men had begun to realise that their marriage of convenience was turning into something real, but any acknowledgement of that had to be put on the back burner when they were targeted by the traffickers they’re trying to bring down, Levi’s boss was framed for murder, and two of their colleagues were injured and ended up in hospital. With the help of Redemption Inc. (the company run by Brax (Silent Knight) and Mel (Whiskeyverse)) Levi, Marsh and David (Levi’s fourteen-year-old son) were able to get away under the radar, and when Bad Bishop begins, are en route to Marsh’s family ranch/compound in Texas.

Once settled, Marsh and Levi set about taking stock of where they are with the investigation and deciding on their next moves. It seems their most likely suspect has decamped to Europe, so it’s back to The Hague for Marsh (he was working there as a Legat at the beginning of Dead Draw) and then on to Vienna and Salzburg – but this time he won’t be alone. Confident of David’s safety at the ranch with Marsh’s moms, Holt, and Brax, Levi will be going with him, and then they’ll meet up with some of Marsh’s former colleagues and contacts to see what they know and start to plan the take-down. Meeting up with Sean (What We May Be), Marsh and Levi start picking their way through a complicated network of connections, progress made even tricker by the knowledge that someone Marsh and Sean have worked with may be in the traffickers’ pocket. There’s no way they’re getting away with everything they’re doing without someone high up covering for them and allowing them to operate unchecked throughout Europe. Marsh and Levi already know this is true of the operation in the US, where the gang has some pretty influential people on its payroll. While trying to work out how far the corruption extends, they’re also presented with some new – and uncomfortable – information about Sophie, the friend and mentor whose murder set Marsh onto the path which ultimately led him to Levi… and the web becomes even more tangled.

Ms. Reyne does a good job here of giving the romance space to breathe and embed without losing any of the momentum surrounding the suspense plot. There’s plenty going on – mostly gathering information and following leads rather than shoot ‘em up action – but the tension is mounting and the ending is a nail-biter. It’s probably no surprise that there’s a cliffhanger ending given that this is essentially part two of a single story being told in three instalments – but there is one and it’s one guaranteed to have you chomping at the bit for King Hunt (out early 2023).

On the relationship front, the tables are turned somewhat here as the events at the end of the previous book have spooked Marsh a little; he’s riddled with guilt over what he’s brought to Levi and David’s door and his deep-seated insecurities about not being enough have come flooding back. He’s one of those guys with a protective streak a mile wide and such a big heart that he wants desperately to look after those he loves and fails to do the same for himself. He needs someone who recognises that about him and who will do their best to show him that he IS enough – that he could be everything – and luckily for him, he’s found that person in the man he proposed to in order to get in on an op.

Although Levi wasn’t completely sure that marrying a stranger was a good idea, by the end of Dead Draw he had decided he needed Marsh in his life and was ready to trust him with his happiness and his son’s and make a new life with him. Knowing Marsh pretty well by now, he knows why his husband seems to be pulling back, and is determined to show Marsh that he absolutey, one-hundred percent, means what he says:

I will have your back, however I can do that, however you need me to, and I will give you a home and heart to return to. I promise I won’t leave you.

I like Levi and Marsh both individually and as a couple – they have terrific chemistry and I love the relationship Marsh is continuing to build with David – I like the way their romance is playing out, and I’m intrigued by the plot, so I enjoyed a lot about the book as a whole. But once again, I’m knocking off grade points for over-complication, because the first section is bursting at the seams with cameo appearances, and it was hard to keep track of who was who and who did what – and I’ve read almost all Ms. Reyne’s romantic suspense titles! Sure, it’s fun to see familiar faces again, but at the same time, it’s over-egging the pudding when no less than seven characters (Helena, Brax and Holt from Fog City, Cam Byrne from Trouble Brewing, Sean, Trevor and Charlotte from What We May Be) all drop in alongside the secondary characters from this series. (One scene features around a dozen speaking characters on a big video/conference call.) Sean and, to a lesser extent, Holt and Brax, do have larger roles to play in the wider story, and I’m completely behind the concept of ‘why create a new character to do X when I can use one that already exists?’ – but even so, I couldn’t help wondering if the story really needed ALL of them. There are also half-a-dozen villains and at least three more new characters introduced once the story moves to Europe – it’s a lot to keep track of.

That criticism aside however, once past those early chapters and with the action moving to Europe, the story kicks up a gear and the twists and turns come thick and fast. Slick, sexy, suspenseful and entertaiing, Bad Bishop is a strong follow-up to Dead Draw, and I’ll be back next year to watch Levi and Marsh bring down the bad guys and get their well-deserved HEA.

Elusive Relations (Valor & Doyle #2) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

elusive relations

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Life was easier when rival detectives Quaid Valor and Aslan Doyle kept to their own sides of the building. They could forget the one glorious night they’d shared and move on.

But when Aslan is called to a homicide and discovers one of the victims has a personal history with Quaid, he knows a confrontation is inevitable.

When news about the case spreads, Quaid can’t help but get involved. He wants answers; if not for himself, then for the families of the victims.

Joining Aslan and his partner, Quaid uncovers more than he bargained for—too many secrets and lies in a case that is dangerously personal.

Plus, the more time he spends with Aslan, the harder it is for Quaid to ignore his attraction to the playboy detective.

Aslan, who doesn’t believe in repeats, can’t seem to stop flirting with the grumpy MPU detective, and his rules go out the window as they’re drawn deeper into the case.

But what happens when one more night turns to two, and two turns into three?

Does Quaid want to risk his heart again?

Has Aslan developed feelings?

Can they put a stop to their fun and walk away?

Do they want to?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Note: This is a direct sequel to Temporary Partner, which should be listened to first. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

I used to listen to and read a lot of the same books, but in recent years, I’ve found myself only doing that with books that a) I’ve absolutely loved in print and b) where I know the narration is going to be top-notch. Both those things are true in the case of Nicky James’ Elusive Relations, book two in her Valor and Doyle Mysteries series. So often the second book in a trilogy (I don’t know if there will be more than three books in the series, so I’m going with “trilogy” for now) is a bit of a disappointment, a filler that just ticks along after the introductions and expositions of book one and doesn’t advance the plot/relationship very much because the author is keeping their powder dry for book three. Well, that is absolutely NOT what Nicky James does here, combining a fascinating plot with some stellar character/relationship development as a a new case hits close to home and detectives Quaid Valor and Aslan Doyle try (and fail) to forget their spectacular night together and move on.

When Aslan and his partner Torin Fox are called to the scene of a particularly brutal murder, they find one man beaten viciously to death and learn that his bed-partner survived the attack and has been rushed to hospital. The detectives learn that he is the owner of the house, Jack Pilkey, and that, according to the neighbours, he brings home a different guy every night. The dead man’s wallet and driver’s licence identify him as a twenty-five-year-old student at the local university, and when Aslan sees the photograph of the other guy, his stomach drops. Jack Pilkey is Quaid’s cheating, douchebag ex-boyfriend.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.