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.”

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Doctor (Magic & Steam #3) by C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Declan Winters

The Doctor

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

1882—Gillian Hamilton, magic caster and Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has been stripped of his title, badge, and freedom. Gillian’s true name and powers have been exposed, so now he’s kept under lock and key. To make a tragedy worse, Gunner the Deadly has returned to his life out in the Wild West and has not been heard from since.

Rumors of a doctor, known only as Sawbones, with access to illegal magic have persisted into the new year. Gillian believes that violence, chaos, and certain death will befall New York City if this criminal isn’t apprehended. And despite having lost his sense of purpose, Gillian knows he’s the only one capable of confronting this new madman—with or without the backing of the FBMS.

But such dangers should never be undertaken alone. Gillian will need both Gunner’s deadeye marksmanship, as well as his love, if he’s to detain Sawbones before irreparable damage is done to the magic of his world.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A

C.S Poe’s steampunk Magic & Steam series gets better and better with each instalment, delivering a cracking blend of romance, humour, high-stakes action and nail-biting tension as our two heroes – quiet, self-contained lawman Gillian Hamilton and sexy outlaw Gunner the Deadly – battle mad scientists, mechanical men and dangerous gangsters in a steampunk version of New York in the 1880s.

Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series this review.

The author dropped a massive bombshell at the end of The Gangster when the past Gillian has worked so long and hard to hide finally caught up with him and he was revealed to be Simon Fitzgerald, a wanted war criminal known as the Butcher of Antietam on account of the atrocities he was forced to commit during the Great Conflict when he was a ten-year-old boy. Just before he was taken into custody by agents of the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, a desperate Gillian urged Gunner to leave him to his fate – and when the book opens, Gillian has been spent almost two months incarcerated in the Home for the Magically Insane on Blackwell’s Island.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Doctor (Magic & Steam #3) by C.S. Poe

the doctor

This title may be purchased from Amazon

1882—Gillian Hamilton, magic caster and Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has been stripped of his title, badge, and freedom. Gillian’s true name and powers have been exposed, so now he’s kept under lock and key. To make a tragedy worse, Gunner the Deadly has returned to his life out in the Wild West and has not been heard from since.

Rumors of a doctor, known only as Sawbones, with access to illegal magic have persisted into the new year. Gillian believes that violence, chaos, and certain death will befall New York City if this criminal isn’t apprehended. And despite having lost his sense of purpose, Gillian knows he’s the only one capable of confronting this new madman—with or without the backing of the FBMS.

But such dangers should never be undertaken alone. Gillian will need both Gunner’s deadeye marksmanship, as well as his love, if he’s to detain Sawbones before irreparable damage is done to the magic of his world.

Rating: A

This third book in C.S. Poe’s Magic & Steam series is one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2022, and it absolutely did not disappoint. After the massive cliffhanger at the end of The Gangster, the author had some serious ground to cover in The Doctor in terms of furthering and pulling together the various plot-threads she laid out in the previous books, and in continuing to develop the romance between quietly-controlled lawman Gillian Hamilton and sexy outlaw Gunner the Deadly while also revealing more of their backstories. She pulls it all off with considerable aplomb, moving the story along at a swift pace and incorporating some superbly written set pieces and action scenes while also giving prominence to moments of insight, connection and tenderness between Gillian and Gunner that are heart-meltingly lovely in their understatedness.

Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.

The Gangster ended on a massive clliffhanger when the past Gillian has worked so long and so hard to hide finally caught up with him. In a last-minute bombshell, we learned his real name is Simon Fitzgerald and that he’s been a wanted war criminal since he was just a boy, for atrocities he was forced to commit during the Great Conflict (this universe’s version of the American Civil War.) Before he was arrested, Gillian sent Gunner away for his own protection (he’s a wanted man, after all) – and in the weeks since then, Gillian has been incarcerated at The Home for the Magically Insane on Blackwell’s Island.

Starved, humiliated, abused and assailed by horrific memories, Gillian fears for both his life and his sanity, knowing he’s destined to be locked away until such time as those in power – the non-magical politicians who founded the FBMS – want to make use of him and his unparallelled magical abilities. He also knows there’s much more at stake, a threat to the magical community he’s now powerless to do anything about, tears in the atmosphere that are damaging the undercurrent of power drawn on by magic users that he believes are being caused by quintessence, a new, illegal kind of magic he and Gunner had discovered being used by the gangster, Tick Tock.

The one person who takes Gillian’s concern seriously is Eugene Barrie, a visiting doctor who helps him to escape the asylum and arranges to accompany him to California, where Gillian believes he’ll be able to track down the architect (spell-creator) who built the illegal spells, and Sawbones, the man responsible for creating Tick Tock’s grotesque army of half-human, half-mechanical men. And maybe he’ll be able to find Gunner, too, and apologise for sending him away – although he can’t help worrying that Gunner might want nothing more to do with him. However, all is not as it seems, and just a couple of days into the journey, Barrie is revealed to have nefarious ulterior motives.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, so I’ll just say that my jaw dropped a little further with each revelation as more of the story’s intricately woven web of connections is slowly revealed. Gillian and Gunner are dramatically reunited, and I just adore how in tune they are with each other, how they continue to grow together and love each other with such ferocity and genuine devotion. They fit so well together, Gunner’s steadfast support and strong protective streak just what Gillian needs after having been so very alone all his life.

Gillian’s secrets aren’t the only ones to come to light in this book, however. Gunner has been an enigmatic figure so far, a man who doesn’t lie but who is always very careful about what he says, and I’m so glad we’re – finally – getting to know more about him. The truth of his past comes as a complete surprise (more jaw-dropping!) and I may have squealed in delight when the thread tying Gunner and Gillian together was revealed 🙂 But there’s not too much time for wallowing in that connection as we hurtle towards a thrilling and high-stakes climax – which culminates in a shocking discovery that promises a greater threat, to both the magical world and Gillian and Gunner personally.

Both men are immensely likeable, complex, yet flawed characters who are easy to become invested in. Beneath the self-effacing stickler, Gillian is an endearingly sweet but prickly and vulnerable badass with a dry sense of humour and a driving need to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. He’s been through so much – his backstory is heartbreaking – but he’s a survivor, and I was so pleased to see him owning his truth and ready to love Gunner openly at last. I also loved that he’s no longer hiding his incredible power, and the moments when he really lets rip with his magic are deeply statisfying and vividly written, putting the reader right in the middle of the action. And while Gunner could easily have been a strong, silent stereotype, the affection for Gillian that radiates from him, the way he shows that affection in every word and deed, makes him so much more than a two-dimenstional cypher who’s there only to provide the muscle and the firepower. As is very clear, Gillian doesn’t need firepower, he needs someone to see him and believe in him – and Gunner is that someone.

I was pleased to catch up with some of the secondary characters from previous books, including Gillian’s boss, Loren Moore – his exchanges with Gunner provide some much-needed humour (and I couldn’t help sighing just a bit over Jealous!Gunner), and bare-knuckle fighter Addison O’Dea, who comes through for Gillian at a time of great need. The bad guys are the worst kind of evil – power-hungry, amoral, totally unscrupulous – who, at times, made my skin crawl. I can’t wait to see their plans thwarted, although right now, it’s looking like our heroes have a really tough road ahead.

It seems C.S. Poe loves to torment her readers, as The Doctor ends with another cliffhanger – this time relating to Gunner’s past (a clever mirror of the one in the previous book), which left me stunned, cursing and wondering just how much more heartache is in store for these two. But I’m in it for the long haul, so I’ll be here for book four, The Councilman, (the author recently confirmed this will be a five-book series) which honestly can’t get here soon enough.

The Doctor is a real edge-of-your-seat read; a fantastic combination of action, adventure and romance with loveable (and un-loveable!) characters and a skilfully developed steampunk world. The plot unfolds magnificently, the pacing is perfect, the writing evocative, and the emotional highs and lows will deliver happy sighs and punches to the gut. The Magic & Steam series one of the best ongoing series around, and with The Doctor, it gets even better.

Madison Square Murders (Momento Mori #1) by C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

Madison Square Murders audio

Everett Larkin works for the Cold Case Squad: an elite – if understaffed and overworked – group of detectives who solve the forgotten deaths of New York City. Larkin is different from others, but his deduction skills are unmatched and his memory for minute details is unparalleled.

So when a spring thunderstorm uproots a tree in Madison Square Park, unearthing a crate with human remains inside, the best Cold Case detective is assigned the job. And when a death mask, like those prominent during the Victorian era, is found with the body, Larkin requests assistance from the Forensic Artists Unit and receives it in the form of Detective Ira Doyle, his polar opposite in every way.

Factual reasoning and facial reconstruction put Larkin and Doyle on a trail of old homicide cases and a murderer obsessed with casting his victims’ likeness in death. Include some unapologetic flirting from Doyle, and this case just may end up killing Everett Larkin.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

C.S. Poe kicks off her latest series of m/m mysteries in grand style with Madison Square Murders, book one in her New York-set Momento Mori series. It’s a clever, tightly plotted mystery featuring one of the most unusual protagonists I’ve ever come across; I loved the story when I read it a few months back and enjoyed it all over again in audio – where there’s the added goodness of a wonderfully intelligent and switched-on performance from Kale Williams.

Detective Everett Larkin of the Cold Case Squad is called to Madison Square Park, where a storm has uprooted an old tree – beneath which lies a wooden crate containing human remains. These are obviously not new, and initial observations by the CSI on scene suggest the body is that of a male in his twenties; most unusual, however, is what has also been found in the crate – a bronze casting of a face. A death mask. There’s no way of telling, at this stage, if the face the mask was made from belongs to the same set of remains or if it’s completely unrelated – and the CSI suggests Larkin should contact Ira Doyle, a detective with the police department’s small Forensic Artist Unit, for some expert advice.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Lights. Camera. Murder. (Silver Screen #1) by C.S. Poe

lights, camera, murder

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Private investigator Rory Byrne, has gained a reputation as someone the elite of New York City can trust to solve their problems quickly and quietly. So when a hotshot television producer hires him to recover a stolen script, Rory isn’t surprised that he’ll need to go undercover on the set of a historical drama. He has his hands full trying to investigate a skeptical and agitated crew while they work around the clock on The Bowery, a new show which promises to shake up the television industry.

To make a delicate situation even more complicated, the production is led by out-and-proud Marion Roosevelt and Rory is downright smitten with the handsome and talented actor. But every member of the crew and cast is a suspect in the theft. And as Rory investigates, Marion’s behavior grows increasingly suspicious. Then the murders start.

If Rory is to find the thief before The Bowery is cancelled, he’ll have to share his identity with the one man on set he can’t trust—Marion Roosevelt.

Grade: B

Lights. Camera. Murder. originally appeared in the Footsteps in the Dark anthology from 2019 (along with stories from Josh Lanyon, Dal Maclean, S.C. Wynne, Z.A. Maxfield and others) – and as I’ve had good experiences with C.S. Poe’s work lately, I thought I’d give this novella a go for the January “quickie” prompt.  I enjoyed the story, and was pleased to learn that the author is writing a sequel/series set in the same world with the same lead characters.

PI Rory Byrne has gained a reputation as the go-to guy for people who need their problems solved quickly and quietly.  He’s very good at what he does and is something of a workaholic – which accounts for his string of ex-boyfriends, most of whom left when they got fed up with playing second fiddle to his job.

The story opens with Rory being hired by a ‘hot shot’ (in Rory-speak, that’s “Royal Pain in the Ass”) television producer to investigate the theft of a script.  John Anderson is the producer of a new TV show being filmed in Queens called The Bowery – an historical drama set in turn-of-the-century New York centred around an Irish gang leader who is in a committed same-sex relationship.  Anderson is planning on branching out and has written a pilot for what he says is a bigger, edgier and better show than The Bowery – but it’s gone missing and he’s sure it’s been stolen.  The job is a bit out of Rory’s usual line – it’s on a live film set, likely an inside job, there are literally hundreds of suspects (basically the entire cast and crew) – and he only has a few days to solve the case.

So Rory goes undercover as a PA (production assistant) and immediately, all the tensions – both on and off set – hierarchies and petty politics that come with working in such a high-pressure, high-profile environment become apparent.  The key PA is an arsehole, the Production Manager clearly doesn’t like the on-set production crew, there’s obvious hostility between the director and lead actor Marion Roosevelt… nobody’s talking, everybody’s nervous – and then in the midst of it all, one of the crew is murdered.

Lights, Camera, Murder  is a well-crafted and engaging read, despite its small page-count.  The mystery is intriguing, with enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep it interesting without going over the top, and although the secondary characters are drawn with broad strokes they have depth and individuality.  Rory is the PoV character, so he’s the one we get to know the best, and he’s hard-bitten in a very noir-ish kind of way (I admit that when I first saw the cover, I though the story was set in the 1950s); he’s in his forties and has been there, done that several times, and the one constant in his life is his cat Gary (a total scene-stealer).  He isn’t too worried about his poor track record with relationships, although meeting Marion makes him start to wonder if maybe it’s time he made some changes and stopped getting in his own way.

Marion is almost twenty years younger than Rory, he’s gorgeous, charming, super-talented, sweet and savvy; he’s landed the role of a lifetime in The Bowery and feels passionately about the opportunity it’s given him to deliver a positive portrayal of a strong queer character in love.  Sparks fly between him and Rory from the moment they meet and their romance gets off to a promising start.  I confess though, that had this been a standalone and not the start of a series, I might have found it a bit rushed.

The writing flows smoothly and Ms. Poe does a great job when it comes to describing the day-to-day working of a bustling movie set.  I always enjoy her wry humour – and she gets extra brownie points for Gary the cat, whose utter “cat-ness” clearly signals someone Who Knows Cats.

Lights, Camera, Murder is an entertaining whodunit with a touch of romance, and although short, it reaches a satisfying conclusion and feels ‘complete’.  I’m looking forward to reading what the author has in store for Rory and Marion next.

A Friend in the Fire (Auden & O’Callaghan Mysteries #2) by Gregory Ashe & C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Garrett Kiesel

a friend in the fire

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After solving the mystery behind the death of his former friend in July, ex-Army Sam Auden has been aimlessly wandering the country. Everything had gone sideways in New York City, so when his phone rings three months later, the caller is the last person Sam expected to be asking for help.

Confidential informant Rufus O’Callaghan has been struggling. His NYPD contact was murdered over the summer, and the man Rufus is head over heels for was driven away by his own undiagnosed trauma. But when he receives an anonymous letter that promises information on his mother, life goes from dark to dangerous in the blink of an eye.

Sam and Rufus must dig into Rufus’s rough and turbulent past in order to solve a series of contemporary murders connected to his mother. And if the two can’t expose who the killer is in time, they will most certainly become his next targets.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content- B+

When we last saw Rufus O’Callaghan and Sam Auden at the end of Gregory Ashe and C.S Poe’s A Friend in the Dark, they had a blazing row which ended with Sam walking out of Rufus’ apartment and his life. Well, as A Friend in the Fire is book two in the Auden and O’Callaghan series, it will come as no surprise that they’re destined to meet again, but after a bitter argument and three months apart, it’s going to take a while for them to trust each other again.

After Sam left, he went back to his somewhat nomadic lifestyle, and when we catch up with him, he’s pitched up in a back-of-beyond town with an impossible-to-pronounce name (!) in deepest Missouri. He hasn’t heard from Rufus once in the past three months (Rufus never gave Sam his number, so Sam can’t reach out) – so the last thing Sam expects is a call from a panicked-sounding Rufus asking for help.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Madison Square Murders (Memento Mori #1) by C.S. Poe

madison square murders (2)

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Everett Larkin works for the Cold Case Squad: an elite—if understaffed and overworked—group of detectives who solve the forgotten deaths of New York City. Larkin is different from others, but his deduction skills are unmatched and his memory for minute details is unparalleled.

So when a spring thunderstorm uproots a tree in Madison Square Park, unearthing a crate with human remains inside, the best Cold Case detective is assigned the job. And when a death mask, like those prominent during the Victorian era, is found with the body, Larkin requests assistance from the Forensic Artists Unit and receives it in the form of Detective Ira Doyle, his polar opposite in every way.

Factual reasoning and facial reconstruction puts Larkin and Doyle on a trail of old homicide cases and a murderer obsessed with casting his victims’ likeness in death. Include some unapologetic flirting from Doyle, and this case just may end up killing Everett Larkin.

Rating: A

Madison Square Murders, the first book in C.S. Poe’s new Memento Mori series, is a compelling read featuring an intriguing, cleverly constructed mystery and one of the most unusual lead characters I’ve ever come across, a neuroatypical detective in New York City whose unique memory condition makes him an outstanding detective while at the same time causing him to struggle with anxiety, social interaction and the ability to function properly at even a basic – what most of us might consider ‘normal’ – level.

When a crate containing human remains is unearthed after a tree in Madison Square Park is uprooted by a spring thunderstorm, Detective Everett Larkin of the Cold Case Squad is called to the scene.  The remains are clearly not new or recent, and although Larkin will have to wait for official confirmation, initial findings indicate that the deceased was a young man in his twenties – and most unusually, there’s what appears to be a bronze casting of a face tucked in near his feet.  It’s an impressive piece of work artistically – but there’s no way of knowing if it’s a cast of the victim’s face or of someone totally unrelated.  The CSU at the scene suggests the casting is a death mask – and that Larkin should get in touch with Detective Ira Doyle, one of NYPD’s small team of forensic artists, to get some expert advice.

Ira Doyle is something of a surprise to Larkin.  Optimistic, flirtatious and always ready with a quip and a smile, he proves not only to be a talented artist and knowledgeable about his subject, but also very competent detective, able to keep up with Larkin’s not-always-easy-to-follow thought processes and not fazed by his… quirks.  Doyle sets to work straight away, and in less than twenty-four hours, his facial reconstruction coupled with Larkin’s deep-dive into hundreds of missing person reports has enabled them to give a forgotten man his identify back and to work out that they’re investigating a murder that took place twenty-two years earlier.  As Larkin and Doyle dig deeper, it becomes apparent that this wasn’t the killer’s first or only victim; nor was this the first or only death mask to have been made. They’re looking for an as yet unidentified serial killer.

Madison Square Murders was a hard book to put down!  The mystery is superbly constructed and satisfyingly complex without being either overcomplicated or too easily unravelled, and there’s a lovely opposites-attract romance building between Larkin and Doyle that’s very clearly based on the solid foundations of genuine mutual respect and understanding.  But what really puts this book into the DIK bracket is the characters, especially Larkin, who is a fantastic protagonist and unlike anyone I’ve ever read before.  He’s fiercely intelligent and doesn’t make a secret of it, but personally, he’s a hot mess, unsure, deeply damaged and finding it increasingly difficult to keep it together.  His HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) is often (thoughtlessly) admired by others, but for him it’s not so much a gift as it is a curse. It means he’s unable to forget a single tragedy or misfortune once he’s learned of it, the “rolodex” in his mind always moving and flipping between one association and the next, while his short term memory is hopeless and he can’t function from one hour to the next without a detailed daily plan.  Not helping matters right now is his disintegrating marriage; Larkin is starting to realise that his husband doesn’t really know him and doesn’t want to – possibly that he never wanted to – and despite all his promises that Larkin wouldn’t have to hide his quirks at home, seems to have believed all along that Larkin could and would change. The way the author illuminates Larkin’s inner world is simply brilliant; his words and thoughts, his feelings, his insecurities and his deep-seated need to be seen and understood, all are expertly – sometimes heartbreakingly – well communicated and bring this unique character vividly to life.

Ira Doyle is the perfect foil for him despite their outward differences. In complete contrast to Larkin, Doyle is laid-back and charming with a killer smile, but as Larkin very quickly discerns, he’s also whip-smart and a very good detective as well as a talented artist.  More importantly, Doyle seems to instinctively know just the right thing to say or do to stop Larkin spiralling or make him feel comfortable when he becomes overloaded by impressions and associations, and Larkin slowly starts to realise that here, in a person he’s known for less than three days, he’s found someone who sees him more clearly than anyone ever has – even his husband.  He also works out that there’s more to Doyle than his bright smile and easy-going manner would suggest, that the reason he’s so good at putting Larkin at ease is that he has his own demons to slay, that he, too, has suffered loss and heartbreak – it’s just that he’s much better at hiding it.  Doyle may not be as obviously colourful a character as Larkin, but he’s no mere sidekick and is equally well-written and fleshed-out.

The story takes place over just a few days, but the progress of the relationship is perfect, not too fast, not too slow, but a careful progression from colleagues to friends to the possibility of more in the future, and the mystery reaches a satisfactory conclusion – although (and I should be used to this from Ms. Poe by now!) there’s a cliffhanger designed to lead into the next book.

Madison Square Murders is a cracking read and a terrific series opener.  Book two can’t arrive soon enough!

The Gangster (Magic & Steam #2) by C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Declan Winters

The Gangster

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

1881 – Special Agent Gillian Hamilton, magic caster for the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has recovered from injuries obtained while in Shallow Grave, Arizona. Now back in New York City, Gillian makes an arrest on New Year’s Eve that leads to information on a gangster, known only as Tick Tock, who’s perfected utilizing elemental magic ammunition. This report complicates Gillian’s holiday plans, specifically those with infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly, who promised they’d ring in 1882 together.

The two men stand on the cusp of a romance that needs to be explored intimately and privately. But when Gillian’s residence is broken into by a magical mechanical man who tries to murder him on behalf of Tick Tock, he and Gunner must immediately investigate the city’s ruthless street gangs before the illegal magic becomes a threat that cannot be contained.

This might be their most wild adventure yet, but criminal undergrounds can’t compare to the dangers of the heart. Gillian must balance his career in law enforcement with his love for a vigilante, or lose both entirely.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A-

I read The Gangster, book two in C.S Poe’s Magic & Steam series earlier this year and really enjoyed it, so I decided to experience it again in audio format. I’d already listened to the first book – The Engineer – and enjoyed the narration by Declan Winters, so I was pretty sure of a good listen.

Because The Gangster is a direct sequel, I’d strongly recommend starting the series with The Engineer; it’s novella-length (just over two-and-a-half hours) and provides an excellent introduction to the alternate vision of 1880s New York the author has created, and the central characters of the series, Special Agent Gillian Hamilton of the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, and Gunner the Deadly, the legendary outlaw Gillian meets while on assignment in Arizona. The story is fast-paced and exciting with plenty of sizzling chemistry between Gillian and Gunner – who agree to a temporary truce and join forces in order to defeat a bonkers mad-scientist type. The Engineer ends on a strong HFN, with the promise of more to come, and C.S. Poe certainly delivers on that promise in The Gangster, with a full- length story that continues to develop the romance between these two very unlikely men while also telling an action-packed, well-paced story and keeping listeners guessing about… nope, not telling. But be prepared – the book ends on one helluva cliffhanger. I believe book three is due later this year, but at time of writing, there’s no date set.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Friend in the Fire (Auden & O’Callaghan #2) by Gregory Ashe and C.S. Poe

a friend in the fire

This title may be purchased from Amazon

After solving the mystery behind the death of his former friend in July, ex-Army Sam Auden has been aimlessly wandering the country. Everything had gone sideways in New York City, so when his phone rings three months later, the caller is the last person Sam expected to be asking for help.

Confidential informant Rufus O’Callaghan has been struggling. His NYPD contact was murdered over the summer, and the man Rufus is head over heels for was driven away by his own undiagnosed trauma. But when he receives an anonymous letter that promises information on his mother, life goes from dark to dangerous in the blink of an eye.

Sam and Rufus must dig into Rufus’s rough and turbulent past in order to solve a series of contemporary murders connected to his mother. And if the two can’t expose who the killer is in time, they will most certainly become his next targets.

Rating: B+

There are spoilers for book one, A Friend in the Dark, in this review.

A Friend in the Fire is the second book in Gregory Ashe and C.S. Poe’s series of suspense/mystery novels set in NYC featuring Rufus O’Callaghan (a confidential informant) and Sam Auden (formerly of the US Army but otherwise of nowhere in particular), who, in book one, A Friend in the Dark, teamed up to solve the murder of the NYPD detective Rufus had worked for.  In doing so, they uncovered a child sex-trafficking ring with a number of dirty cops linked to it – but while the case was solved by the end of the book, the situation between Sam and Rufus didn’t end as successfully.  After a heated argument following Rufus’ confession to thoughts of suicide, Rufus told Sam to GTFO – and Sam did.

When A Friend in the Fire opens three months later, Rufus isn’t doing so well.  He’s depressed, lonely and too tired to give a fuck; he ordered the only person who gave a damn about him out of his life and hasn’t heard from him since.  Which isn’t surprising, given that Rufus never gave Sam his number.

Rufus is on the way out of his crappy apartment building when he sees a piece of paper sticking out from his mailbox.  It’s a note in handwriting he doesn’t recognise offering “information on Daisy” – his murdered mother – if Rufus turns up at a specified location on Saturday night.  Of course, Rufus can’t stay away; Daisy’s killer was never found, and even though she was far from a good mother, she still deserves justice.  But when Rufus turns up, someone goes for him with a knife and he realises it was a trap; he manages to get away with only a ripped jacket, but it’s a close thing.

After that… well, there’s only one person he wants and trusts to help him.

Rufus is the last person Sam expects to hear from, especially considering how things ended between them.  But when Rufus asks for help, Sam isn’t going to turn him down, and makes his way back to New York (from some shit hole in Missouri whose name he couldn’t even spell – hah!)  as quickly as he can, to find Rufus is a mess… well, more of a mess than before, anyway.

Their reunion is kind of awkward to start with, but it’s not long before the pair have regained the equilibrium they established in the previous book, their snark and teasing underscored by a strong undercurrent of affection and an even stronger one of longing.  Rufus tells Sam about the attack and finally opens up about his past;  his mother was a prostitute who was killed when he was sixteen,  and while she didn’t want or care about him, she was all he had. What happened over the summer made him realise he wasn’t really over her death and needed answers, so he started poking around the NYPD to see if anyone would help him find out the truth – but heard nothing until getting the note which set him up.  It’s too much of a coincidence, surely, that someone tried to kill him just weeks after he’s started asking questions – so… who wants him dead?  And why?

As Sam and Rufus start digging, they learn that Daisy’s death wasn’t an isolated incident, and that it was the last of a string of murders of sex-workers that happened in the late 90s and early 2000s. But when some of the other working girls in the area are murdered, and some of Daisy’s former ‘colleagues’ are killed, it seems that whoever was responsible for the earlier slayings is back.  They’re desperate to cover their tracks completely… and Rufus is in their sights.

As I’d expect from two accomplished mystery writers, the plot is tight and well put-together, but what draws me to these stories are the characters and their evolving relationship, which are just as important a part of the novel as the mystery.  I really like both Sam and Rufus, although at this stage Sam, despite his tendency to be brutally honest, is still a little bit of an enigma.  Rufus is kind of adorkable, but he’s also damaged and struggles with anxiety and depression.  He’s lived a tough and very solitary life; he made money as a petty thief until he turned CI for Detective Jake Brower, who was the first person who ever showed him any sort of kindness or friendship, and the only person who ever believed in him, which is why Rufus took his death so hard.  He’s sweet, funny and whip smart but doesn’t think he is, and his longing to be something to someone is incredibly poignant.

Sam is his total opposite in many ways. He’s big, gruff and intimidating with very little by way of a verbal filter, but he’s insightful and can be really tender and affectionate when it comes to Rufus.   We don’t know much about Sam’s past yet; he’s ex-army and didn’t leave on good terms, he lives with PTSD and there’s something dark in his past he’s not willing to talk about – which causes friction between him and Rufus.  They have terrific chemistry and I love the way they work together – there’s a great kind of reciprocal energy that bounces between them and a real sense of connection and trust, too.

Those things carry over into their personal relationship.  I like how honest they are with each other about how they feel; they own up to having missed each other badly after Rufus threw Sam out and to how much it means to them both that Sam came back.  They’re complete misfits, but somehow – and both authors are a dab hand at creating misfits-who-fit pairings – they work; two broken men who, in falling for one another are helping each other to want to be better and to heal.

A Friend in the Fire is another entertaining outing for Auden and O’Callaghan, and one I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys a fast-moving, clever mystery with a well-realised setting and a couple of complex, likeable protagonists.  I’ll definitely be back for the next instalment in the series.

A Friend in the Dark (Auden & O’Callaghan Mysteries #1) by Gregory Ashe & C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Garrett Kiesel

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Rufus O’Callaghan has eked out a living on the streets of New York City by helping the police put away criminals as a confidential informant. But when Rufus shows up for an arranged meeting and finds his handler dead, his already-uncertain life is thrown into a tailspin. Now someone is trying to kill Rufus too, and he’s determined to find out why.

After leaving the Army under less than desirable circumstances, Sam Auden has drifted from town to town, hitching rides and catching Greyhounds, until he learns that a former Army buddy, now a police detective in New York City, has died by suicide. Sam knows that’s not right, and he immediately sets out to get answers.

As Rufus and Sam work together to learn the truth of their friend’s death, they find themselves entangled in a web of lies, cover-ups, and accelerating danger. And when they witness a suspect killed in cold blood, they realize they’re running out of time.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B+

A Friend in the Dark is book one (of four) in a new series of m/m romantic suspense novels co-authored by Gregory Ashe and C.S. Poe, and it’s a strong start, boasting a well-paced and interesting mystery and two quirky, engaging central characters I’m eager to spend more time with. Narrator Garret Kiesel is new-to-me and, it seems, quite new to audiobook narration in general; so far he has narrated a few non-fiction books with this as his sole venture into fiction. I’m always apprehensive when listening to a new narrator, especially one who is narrating a book I’ve enjoyed; thankfully however, Mr. Kiesel acquits himself reasonably well , but there’s a serious production issue that irritated me, especially during the latter half of the audiobook.

Rufus O’Callaghan has, for a number of years, acted as a CI (confidential informant) for Detective Jake Brower of the NYPD, and over that time, they’ve become friends of a sort. Jake looks out for Rufus – the only person in Rufus’ life ever to have done so – and Rufus feels safe with him, which means a lot to someone whose meagre means keep him barely off the streets. Rufus runs errands for Jake at times, and when the book opens, is on his way to meet with him to pick up a package. When Rufus arrives at the specified location though, there’s no sign of Jake, so he carefully makes his way through the abandoned offices – finding Jake’s body slumped in a shower room, a bullet hole in the centre of his forehead. Rufus barely has time to process this before he’s being shot at, too; he manages to escape and quickly makes his way to Jake’s apartment, to see if he can find any clue as to what was in the package he was supposed to pick up. Horrified, filled with grief and sadness at the loss of the only friend he’s ever really had, Rufus decides he owes it to Jake to find out what he can and take it to the NYPD to help find his murderer.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.