The Monuments Men Murders (The Art of Murder #4) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Someone is watching. Someone is waiting.

Despite having attracted the attention of a dangerous stalker, Special Agent Jason West is doing his best to keep his mind on his job and off his own troubles.

But his latest case implicates one of the original Monuments Men in the theft and perhaps destruction of part of the world’s cultural heritage – a lost painting by Vermeer. Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander Emerson Harley wasn’t just a World War 2 hero, he was the grandfather Jason grew up idolizing. In fact, Grandpa Harley was a large part of what inspired Jason to join the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

Learning that his legendary grandfather might have turned a blind eye to American GIs “liberating” priceless art treasures at the end of the war is more than disturbing. It’s devastating.

Jason is determined to clear his grandfather’s name, even if that means breaking a few rules and regulations himself – putting him on a collision course with romantic partner BAU Chief Sam Kennedy.

Meanwhile, someone in the shadows is biding his time…

Rating: Narration: B; Content: B+

Josh Lanyon’s The Art of Murder series has an overarching plotline and the central romance evolves over the course of the books, so it’s advisable to listen to them in order to so as to fully appreciate the progression of both. It also means there will be spoilers for the other titles in this review of The Monuments Men Murders, (book four), so proceed with caution if you haven’t yet read or listened to them.

In book one of the series, The Mermaid Murders, Special Agent Jason West of the FBI Art Crimes Team was temporarily partnered with Senior Special Agent Sam Kennedy – chief of the Behavioural Analysis Unit and something of a legend in the bureau – to work the case of a missing girl. The pair didn’t hit it off, Kennedy plainly unhappy at being partnered up at all, let alone with an art crimes specialist, Jason irritated and angry at Kennedy’s high-handed arrogance. Over the course of the book, the pair began to appreciate each other’s skills and to like each other – and even when they didn’t, they shared an undeniable and intense chemistry that led to a couple of passionate hook-ups. The book ended with their agreeing to get together again when they could which, given their jobs are in distant parts of the country, they knew was unlikely to be often. In the books since, they’ve fallen in love and are pursuing a long-distance relationship, which isn’t easy for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that Sam has always been something of a lone wolf; at forty-six he’s at the pinnacle of his career and is – and always has been – utterly dedicated to his job to the exclusion of pretty much all else. Falling for Jason has upset his carefully maintained balance, and he’s found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he’s finally found something – someone – who means as much, if not more, to him as his job. Jason understands Sam’s commitment, and in fact shares it; he’s every bit as dedicated to his job as Sam is to his, and just as much in love, but he knows he’ll never really come first with Sam and seems continually waiting for him to call a halt to… whatever this thing is between them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Mainly by Moonlight (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can a witch avoid a murder rap without revealing the supernatural truth?

Cosmo Saville guiltily hides a paranormal secret from his soon-to-be husband. And if he can’t undo a powerful love spell, uncertainty threatens his nuptial magic. But when he’s arrested for allegedly killing a longtime rival, he could spend his honeymoon behind bars…

Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith never believed in love until Cosmo came along. Falling head over heels for the elegant antiques dealer is an enchantment he never wants to break. So when all fingers point to Cosmo’s guilt, John struggles to believe what his heart is telling him.

As Cosmo searches for the real killer among the arcane aristocracy, John warns him to leave it to the police. But with an unseen enemy threatening to expose Cosmo’s true nature, the couple’s blissful future could shatter like a broken charm.

Can Cosmo find the lost grimoire, clear his name and keep John’s love alive, or will black magic “rune” their wedding bells?

Rating: B

Josh Lanyon’s latest novel is kind of Adrien English meets Bewitched as the owner of an antique store (who also happens to be a witch) finds himself suspected of murder just a few days before his wedding to the city’s Police Commissioner.  Mainly by Moonlight is an enjoyable romp that’s perhaps a little more light-hearted than some of the author’s other novels – and as it’s the first in a trilogy, it sets up more questions than it answers, so don’t pick it up expecting everything to be cut and dried by the time you get to the last page.

For years, witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville has been trying to locate the Grimorium Primus, the first and most powerful of the Five Grimoires and an important family heirloom. When he receives a message from business rival Seamus Reitherman telling him he has the Grimorium in his possession, Cosmo goes to meet him at his store late one evening – only to find the man lying dead in a pool of blood. Panicked, Cosmo doesn’t have time to do much more than register that Seamus has been murdered (there’s a double-edged knife sticking out of his back) and notice the beginnings of a sacred symbol on the floor in yellow chalk above Seamus’ head before flashing lights and sirens herald the arrival of the police.  He’s immediately arrested – and then recognised as the police commissioner’s fiancé.  He’s taken to the police station where series of phone-calls eventually leads to the arrival of Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith (who has no idea that he’s engaged to a witch!), and to Cosmo’s release, although it’s clear that’s not the end of the matter.

As soon as he can, Cosmo goes to see his mother Estelle, Duchesse d’Abracadantès and next in line to be Crone – or Queen of the Witches – to tell her about the events of the previous night, only to have another bombshell dropped on him.  Like most of Cosmo’s friends, Estelle is not pleased about his plans to marry John, and when Cosmo expresses doubts as to whether the wedding will go ahead seeing as he’s a murder suspect and John is the commissioner of police, Estelle points out that John can’t change his mind because he’s under the power of a love spell – one which Estelle assumed Cosmo must have cast himself.

But he didn’t.  Furious at this discovery, Cosmo confronts his best friend Andi who confesses that she put the spell on John as payback for the fact that John behaved like a dickhead towards Cosmo the first time they met.  She didn’t expect John would actively seek Cosmo out or that they’d meet again, but he did and they did – and just over two weeks later, they’re engaged, and are due to marry in two days’ time.  Cosmo and John might not have known each other very long, but Cosmo has fallen head-over-heels in love for real, and he is horrified at the prospect of marrying John under false pretences.  And even moreso at the prospect of losing him forever.  But getting the spell removed is the right thing to do, even though Cosmo knows the effects will take time to wear off and that it will likely be excruciating for him as he watches the man he loves gradually fall out of love with him.  All he can do is hope that John’s feelings for him aren’t completely due to the spell and that maybe he really does love him… although Cosmo starts noticing a subtle shift in their interactions as soon as it’s removed, which doesn’t give him much hope.

I liked a lot about the story – the pop-culture references, the worldbuilding in terms of the witchy hierarchy and magic (although I wanted to know more about the world of the Craft) and Cosmo, who while maybe a tad neurotic, is a smart, good-natured guy with a dry sense of humour and a big heart.  I also liked the set-up for the romance; I had to do a double-take at the fact that Cosmo and John had only known each other for two weeks when they decided to get married, but the rest of it –  the removal of the spell and Cosmo’s fears that John was going to call off the wedding and break up with him – worked and I’m eager to find out how things between them develop.  I did, however, have a problem with John’s character here.  In other books I’ve read by this author where she tells the story through a single PoV, she always does a great job of presenting the other protagonist to the reader through the eyes of the PoV character, but here, that doesn’t happen. John comes across as rather cold and calculating and is very removed from the reader, so it was difficult to get a handle on him or understand what Cosmo saw in him that made him fall so hard so fast.  BUT – given that many of the other secondary characters are more fully drawn, and there are hints dropped that there’s more to John than meets the eye, I’m guessing this distance is deliberate and that we’ll find out more as the story progresses in the next two books.

The plotline concerning the murder and the grimoire is concluded in this book, but with the discovery of the existence of a secret society whose activities threaten the entire Craft, there are many threads left hanging to be answered in the following instalments, not least of which who is trying to kill Cosmo?… and what happens when John at last finds out Cosmo has been keeping a massive secret from him?

In spite of the reservations I’ve expressed, I’m nonetheless giving Mainly by Moonlight a recommendation, because I enjoyed it overall and I suspect some of the issues I had will be addressed in future books.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about the Craft, seeing Cosmo and John develop as characters and to the conclusion of the various plotlines; and if you’re someone who prefers to wait until series like this are concluded before diving in, the author’s website indicates that book two is due out in October with book three following early 2020, so you won’t have too long a wait.

Fair Play (All’s Fair #2) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Fifty years ago, Roland Mills belonged to a violent activist group. Now, someone is willing to kill to prevent him from publishing his memoirs.

When ex-FBI agent Elliot Mills is called out to examine the charred ruins of his childhood home, he quickly identifies the fire for what it is–arson. A knee injury may have forced Elliot out of the Bureau, but it’s not going to stop him from bringing the man who wants his father dead to justice.

Agent Tucker Lance is still working to find the serial killer who’s obsessed with Elliot and can’t bear the thought of his lover putting himself in additional danger. Straightlaced Tucker has never agreed with radical Roland on much–“opposing political viewpoints” is an understatement–but they’re united on this: Elliot needs to leave the case alone. Now.

Tucker would do nearly anything for the man he loves, but he won’t be used to gain Elliot access to the FBI’s resources. When the past comes back to play and everything both men had known to be true is questioned, their fragile relationship is left hanging in the balance.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

This second book in Josh Lanyon’s All’s Fair trilogy takes place a few months after the apprehension of the serial killer The Sculptor who was revealed to be Andrew Corian, a colleague of Elliot Mills, a history professor at Puget Sound University. An ex-FBI agent, Elliot was drawn into the investigation of the disappearances of a couple of students during the course of which he reunited with his former lover, Special Agent Tucker Lance. The two parted badly after a serious knee injury ended Elliot’s FBI career, but when the investigation in the previous book threw them back together, they were finally able to work things out between them, and when Fair Play opens, they’re an established couple in it for the long haul, although they are still getting used to being a couple and the compromises and adjustments that are necessary to make a relationship work.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fair Game (All’s Fair #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A crippling knee injury forced Elliot Mills to trade in his FBI badge for dusty chalkboards and bored college students. Now a history professor at Puget Sound University, the former agent has put his old life behind him, but it seems his old life isn’t finished with him.

A young man has gone missing from campus and as a favor to a family friend, Elliot agrees to do a little sniffing around. His investigations bring him face-to-face with his former lover, Tucker Lance, the special agent handling the case.

Things ended badly with Tucker, and neither man is ready to back down on the fight that drove them apart. But they have to figure out a way to move beyond their past and work together as more men go missing and Elliot becomes the target in a killer’s obsessive game…

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – B+

Eighteen months (or so) ago, I listened to and reviewed the third book in Josh Lanyon’s All’s Fair series (Fair Chance), and having enjoyed it, planned to go back and listen to the first two books in the series. Well, it’s taken me a while, but I got there eventually! Because I’d already listened to book three, I knew the identity of the villain in Fair Game, but even so, it took me until I was around half way through until I remembered (!) and I was fully engaged by the story anyway, so that didn’t present a problem.

When FBI agent Elliot Mills sustained a debilitating knee injury, he opted to leave the bureau rather than spend the rest of his time there stuck behind a desk. He now teaches history at Puget Sound University, and enjoys it, but he’s still struggling a little to adjust to his new life, one in which he’s often in pain, can’t do some of the things he used to … and which lacks the sort of excitement he used to experience on a regular basis. Out of the blue, his father – a former history professor and rather infamous anti-establishment political activist – asks Elliot to look into the disappearance of a student (the son of his best friend), and Elliot agrees to ask around and see what he can find out. The first problem he has to surmount though is the fact that the lead agent on the case is his former lover, Special Agent Tucker Lance. They parted acrimoniously after Elliot was shot, and haven’t seen each other since; and while Elliot tells himself they didn’t have much of a relationship or much in common besides sex, he still feels Tucker’s loss “like a huge chunk of his life had been ripped out by the same bullet that put him out of a job.”

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Mermaid Murders (The Art of Murder #1) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agent Jason West is seconded from the FBI Art Crime Team to temporarily partner with disgraced, legendary “manhunter” Sam Kennedy when it appears that Kennedy’s most famous case, the capture and conviction of a serial killer known as The Huntsman, may actually have been a disastrous failure.

For The Huntsman is still out there… and the killing has begun again.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B+

Note: I have no idea what’s with that cover. Fingers crossed the author/publisher can find a more appealing one someday.

The first book in the author’s The Art of Murder series, The Mermaid Murders pairs up hard-boiled Senior Special Agent Sam Kennedy of the FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit with one of the bureau’s rising stars, Jason West, who has been seconded from the Art Crimes Team and instructed to assist Kennedy with his latest case, ostensibly because Jason is familiar with the area in which the crime has been committed.  It’s not that simple however;  Sam Kennedy might be something of a legend in the bureau, but his often abrasive manner and single-minded focus hasn’t earned him many friends over the years, and following a very public disagreement with a state governor, he’s  in the dog-house and the higher-ups want someone keeping tabs on him.  So this new partnership is far from a match made in heaven; Kennedy doesn’t want a partner – especially one he doesn’t know or know if he can trust, and makes it clear from the off that he knows Jason has been assigned to babysit him.  But Jason isn’t easily cowed; he’s just as pissed that he’s been sent to ‘handle’ Kennedy and insists right back that he’s part of the investigation and isn’t going to be pushed aside.

“I’ve been asked to try and make sure you don’t step in it again, sure, but I’m not here to hold your cape, Batman.”

More than a decade earlier, Sam was responsible for the apprehension of a serial killer who preyed on teenaged girls in Kingsfield, a small town in Worcester County, New England.  At the time, it was a regular holiday destination for Jason’s family and he had actually been close friends with the first victim, Honey Corrigan.  But now, more than a decade later, it seems the killer has struck again; another girl dead, a small, carved mermaid charm found by the body.  Is this the work of a copycat?  Or did Sam get the wrong man all those years ago?  Given that he’s currently under a cloud, his superiors are twitchy in case the killer is still out there and the wrong man is in prison – but Sam knows that’s not the case.  The right guy is behind bars, but there’s no evidence to support the theory of a copycat or disciple either, which leaves the investigation… where?

The Mermaid Murders boasts an intriguing mystery with plenty of twists and turns, and the author  captures the somewhat insular and suspicious attitude of the local population very well, which lends the story a slight air of menace.  It also introduces a couple of compelling protagonists in Sam Kennedy and Jason West; Sam is large, imposing, taciturn and doesn’t suffer fools. He takes his job seriously, has an enviable record of solving cases and, in spite of the current snafu, is clearly very well respected.  Because the story is told entirely in Jason’s PoV, we never get into Sam’s head which means he remains somewhat frustratingly enigmatic, but it’s clear there’s a lot going on beneath that immovable exterior.  Jason is a dozen years younger (Sam’s mid-forties), he’s smart, he’s intuitive and loves his job in Art Crimes:

“It’s just that…people keep killing other people. That’s the worst of humanity. Art is the other side of the coin. It represents the best of humanity. And what I’m here for is to try and protect that…legacy.”

After a few days, Jason is surprised to discover that even though he doesn’t much like Sam Kennedy, he’s strongly attracted to him.  He has no idea about Kennedy’s sexual preferences but even if he did, Jason doesn’t make a habit of going to bed with people he doesn’t like, so it’s academic and utterly ridiculous. Until it isn’t.  When Sam makes a move, Jason is surprised by the intensity of his reactions to the man and can’t resist, no matter that he knows it’s a bad idea. As this story is setting up a series, the relationship between the pair is basically confined to a couple of explosive sexual encounters, but the author also subtly conveys the changing nature of Jason’s feelings towards Sam, and shows that while Sam is outwardly all about the job and compartmentalising his life, he’s capable of affection and tenderness, even though it’s brief and not overt.  When the book ends, Sam and Jason have agreed to keep in touch, and maybe go on an actual date… but whether they manage that remains to be seen.

Kale Williams is a new-to-me narrator, and I enjoyed his performance overall, although it took me a while to get used to his characterisation of Sam.  It’s not that it’s bad; actually it’s quite a good interpretation of the character, because he’s blunt and very rarely expresses emotion, so the somewhat monotonous (as in a same pitch, not boring!) delivery works.  It’s more that Mr. Williams adopts a kind of whisper/speech delivery for his dialogue in order to sustain the lower pitch (I’m guessing); as I said above, it’s not horrible, it just took me a chapter or two to get used to.  Otherwise it’s a very strong performance – the pacing is spot on and the character differentiation is good so there’s never any confusion as to who is speaking, and he does a good job with the action/set pieces, injecting the right degree of anticipation or fear or whatever else is required into his voice.  I’ll certainly be listening to more books in the series.

Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. But as unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst – but who?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

I’m a relative newcomer to Josh Lanyon’s work, although I’ve enjoyed the few books of hers I’ve read or listened to and am definitely planning on reading and listening to more. Murder Takes the High Road is a new standalone romantic mystery set in Scotland, wherein our hero, California-based librarian Carter Matheson, is spending his holiday on a To Die For tour of the locations associated with the work of his favourite author. If you enjoy stories in which the author throws a subtle wink or three in your direction, then this is likely to appeal; Ms. Lanyon references many of the conventions and tropes found in genre fiction, name-dropping everything from classic mystery writers to Midsomer Murders and skilfully creates a Christie-like scenario culminating in a shocking murder at a remote Scottish castle. It’s low-angst, light-hearted fare, and the focus is definitely on the mystery – so anyone expecting something akin to the author’s normal brand of romantic suspense might be a bit disappointed. Murder Takes the High Road is more of a “cozy” mystery; it’s enjoyable, but lacks the steamy, fast-paced thrills I associate with the kind of m/m romantic suspense novels I’ve been listening to lately.

Carter Matheson definitely fits the definition of a superfan when it comes to British crime author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. There is only one To Die For tour each year and the highlight is the four nights spent on a remote Scottish island owned by the lady herself, where her superfans get to stay in her castle, spend time with her and talk to her about her work.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fair Chance (All’s Fair #3) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

One final game of cat and mouse…

Ex–FBI agent Elliot Mills thought he was done with the most brutal case of his career. The Sculptor, the serial killer he spent years hunting, is finally in jail. But Elliot’s hope dies when he learns the murderer wasn’t acting alone. Now everyone is at risk once again—thanks to a madman determined to finish his partner’s gruesome mission.

I am not reprinting the rest of the book synopsis here as it contains a MASSIVE spoiler which I think would certainly have affected by reaction to the story had I been aware of it – so I’m leaving it up to potential listeners as to whether they want to look it up or not.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Fair Chance is the third book in Josh Lanyon’s All’s Fair series featuring ex-FBI agent-turned history professor Elliot Mills and his partner, FBI agent Tucker Lance. I confess that I haven’t yet read or listened to either of the first two books, but because the synopsis for this indicated that the plot is related to that of book one (Fair Game), I did a bit of homework in preparation for listening to this in order to familiarise myself with the basic storyline and background, and had no trouble following along.

In Fair Game, Elliot – who was invalided out of the FBI a couple years earlier – became involved with the investigation into the disappearance of a student from Puget Sound University (where he now teaches) at the request of his father, a friend of the missing boy’s family. The disappearance turns out to be the work of a serial killer – Andrew Corian, known as the Sculptor – who, at the beginning of Fair Chance is in prison, awaiting sentence.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.