Werewolf meets human. Werewolf snubs human. Werewolf loves human?
Julien Doran arrived in sleepy Maudit Falls, North Carolina, with a heart full of hurt and a head full of questions. The key to his brother’s mysterious last days might be found in this tiny town, and now Julien’s amateur investigation is starting to unearth things the locals would rather keep buried.
Perhaps most especially the strange, magnetic manager of a deserted retreat that’s nearly as odd as its staff.
Eli Smith is a lot of things: thief, werewolf, glamour-puss, liar. And now the manager of a haven for rebel pack runaways. He’s spent years cultivating a persona to disguise his origins, but for the first time ever he’s been entrusted with a real responsibility—and he plans to take that seriously.
Even if the handsome tourist who claims to be in town for some R & R is clearly on a hunt for all things paranormal. And hasn’t taken his brooding gaze off Eli since he’s arrived.
When an old skeleton and a fresh corpse turn a grief errand into a murder investigation, the unlikely Eli is the only person Julien can turn to. Trust is hard to come by in a town known for its monsters, but so is time…
Charlie Adhara’s paranormal/romantic suspense Big Bad Wolf series is one of my all-time favourites. With clever plotting, excellent worldbuilding, fantastic characterisation and a beautifully developed central relationship, those books had it all, and were always going to be a tough act to follow. I was delighted when I learned the author would be writing more books set in this world and that we’d get to spend more time with the snarky, enigmatic Elias Smith – a major secondary character in the earlier series. Eli was introduced in Thrown to the Wolves, where we learned he’d had a very troubled past, running with rebel packs who used and betrayed him until he was rescued and taken in by the Parks. He’s my book catnip – complex, flawed and damaged with a sharp tongue and an attitude for miles.
While this is the first in a new series, I really would recommend reading the previous books first so as to gain an understanding of how this world works; pack politics and how wolves interact (or don’t) with humans are key elements in these stories, and you’ll get a bit of background information on Eli. Plus – they’re marvellous reads and I assure you, you won’t regret backtracking!
Pack of Lies opens just a couple of weeks so after the end of Cry Wolf. Cooper and Park are on their honeymoon and Eli has recently moved to the retreat for runaways they’ve set up in remote Maudit Falls, which they’ve asked him to run. Late one night, Eli makes his way downstairs to the reception desk to find a very bedraggled man crawling around beneath it. Annoyed and suspiciouis, he suggests perhaps his interloper is a housebreaker, but before the man can do more than indignantly contradict him and explain that he’d had an accident a way back along the road, furious knocking at the door heralds the arrival of a woman dripping with blood and frantically insisting she’s seen the monster – she’s seen Sweet Pea, and this time, she’s got proof.
Once the chief of police shows up, Annabelle Dunlop, owner of the ski resort on the other side of the mountain, explains how she’d hurt herself running through the woods and then shows them some very grainy images taken from wildlife cameras that she insists show a figure that is not human. Chief Bucknell is sceptical and says he doesn’t really see much of anything, but Eli immediately recognises part of the image as a wolf in mid-shift. He has no idea who it is or what they might be doing there, but every wolf has a responsibility to maintain the secret of their existence – and clearly, there’s someone out there who isn’t being as careful as they should be. When everyone has left, Eli’s new medic tells him they’ve got their first guest, a young woman named Gwen who has left her rebel pack in search of sanctuary. When Gwen tells Eli that she, too, had felt an ominous presence in the woods and had run from it, Eli realises something is very wrong. Wolves are being hunted, their very existence threatened with exposure – and he decides to get to the bottom of it.
Mid-list Hollywood star Juilen Doran is grieving the loss of his younger brother Rocky, who drowned some fourteen months earlier. At the suggestion of his therapist, Julien goes into Rocky’s childhood bedroom – one they’d shared for a few years – which is where, tucked away in an old hidey-hole only the two of them had known about, Julien finds a flash drive, a notebook and a crudely drawn map of somewhere called Maudit Falls. His brother was forever off on some wild goose chase or other, convinced of the existence of all manner of cryptids and mythical beasts – Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, Nessie – and Sweet Pea, a bipedal creature reported to inhabit Blue Tail Mountain, and Julien frequently had to bail him out of trouble. He tried, repeatedly to get Rocky to see sense, but those conversations always ended in an argument. Three days after their last one, Rocky was dead. He’d taken a boat out on a perfectly clear night and never returned; there was no storm that night, the boat wasn’t damaged, and there was no real way of determining exactly how he died. After finding the notebook and map, Julien isn’t so sure his brother’s death was an accident so, filled with guilt and self-recrimination, Julien turns his back on everything – his career, his family (such as it is) and even his common sense – to follow the trail Rocky has left for him.
Eli and Julien’s shared goal of finding out exactly what is going on in Maudit Falls isn’t the only thing that draws them together, but getting to the truth is more important than an inconvenient attraction to someone they can’t afford to trust. When murder comes to their doorstep along with rumours of hidden treasure and more late-night creature sightings, they form a wary alliance – but as the secrets they’re keeping threaten to destroy their fragile connection, Eli and Julien are going to have to find a way to work together if they’re going to stand a chance of survival.
Pack of Lies is a compelling combination of clever, intricate mystery and expertly crafted slow-burn romance, and I was glued to it from start to finish. Eli and Julien are fascinating, layered characters who circle around each other amid half-truths and lies-by-omission, who yet manage to be likeable and evoke sympathy and understanding. I’ve been intrigued by Eli since his appearances in the earlier series (I said in my reivew of Cry Wolf that he was “crying out” for his own story!); his snarky, prickly demeanour obviously hides a deep vulnerability, and despite his appearance of casual confidence, he worries about being the right person for the job at the retreat and about letting Cooper and Park down. Life has been far from easy for him, and although we learn more of his history here, there’s clearly more to be revealed.
Unlike the Big Bad Wolf series though, Pack of Lies is written in dual PoV, so we get to hear from Julien also, and while Charlie Adhara is one of those authors who can make a single PoV work spectacularly well, I really appreciated that. I liked Julien and enjoyed the way he so clearly cares for Eli and Eli’s feelings – and that he doesn’t hesitate when he decides to go for it with Eli. Julien has always known he’s bisexual, but has never had the opportunity to act on his attraction to men; what he’s really worried about is letting his inexperience show and not Doing It Right – but Eli soon assures him he doesn’t need to worry on that score! Their chemistry is fantastic, and the love scenes are intense and very steamy, with Julian letting out his inner dirty-talker and Eli prepared to let Julien take control.
The book ends with a firm HFN for Eli and Julien, which feels exactly right; a full-blown HEA would have felt inappropriate and I’m happy with the way things are left – with with promise of more.
Pack of Lies is a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, action and intrigue and is a superb start to this new series. I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for Eli and Julien next!