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.
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!