Secret at Skull House (Secrets and Scrabble #2) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Unlike everyone else in Pirate’s Cove, Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, reigning Scrabble champion, and occasionally clueless owner of the village’s only mystery bookstore, is anything but thrilled when famed horror author Brandon Abbott announces he’s purchased legendary Skull House and plans to live there permanently.

Ellery and Brandon have history. Their relationship ended badly and the last thing Ellery wants is a chance to patch things up–especially when his relationship with Police Chief Jack Carson is just getting interesting. But then, maybe Brandon isn’t all that interested in getting back together either, because he seems a lot more interested in asking questions about the bloodstained past of his new home than discussing a possible future with Ellery. What is Brandon really up to?

Ellery will have to unscramble that particular puzzle post haste. Because after his former flame disappears following their loud and public argument, Ellery seems to be Police Chief Carson’s first–and only–suspect.

Rating: B

Ellery Page is back in Secret at Skull House, book two in Josh Lanyon’s new series of cosy mysteries set in the fictional Rhode Island sea-side resort of Pirate’s Cove.  It’s been a month or so since the events of book one, and things have settled down pretty well for Ellery.  When the book opens, everyone in Pirate’s Covet is excited by the news that a famous author of supernatural mysteries – Brandon Abbott – has purchased Skull House, a large, somewhat dilapidated house miles outside town.  Well, everyone is excited except Ellery’s assistant Nora, who had hoped the place would be the new home of the local historical society – and Ellery, who had a relationship with Abbott that ended badly several years earlier.  Ellery has no desire to see him again, but it’s impossible to avoid him in such a small community – and when Abbott is found dead on the rocks below the house, and Ellery is discovered to be the only beneficiary in his will, Ellery finds himself once again suspected of murder.  Only this time, it seems as though police chief Jack Carson is taking the accusation seriously.   And that hurts.  Jack and Ellery have become friendly over the last month or so, having lunch together once or twice a week, Jack helping with the renovations to Ellery’s home – and when Jack asks Ellery on a date, it seems they could be on the verge of becoming more.  But after that night, Jack withdraws abruptly and for no reason Ellery can see, and then doesn’t act to prevent the accusations of murder being sprung on him with no warning.

Ouch.

Alternately hurt, annoyed and angry, Ellery is determined to prove his innocence and starts making enquiries of his own.  He discovers there may be a link between Abbot’s death and a murder that occurred at Skull House two decades before, but when he starts asking around the usually garrulous townsfolk are unexpectedly tight-lipped and reluctant to say anything about it.  And when Ellery is attacked late at night, it seems that someone wants to keep him quiet as well.

I said in my review of Murder in Pirate’s Cove that I’m not normally drawn to cosy mysteries, but so far this series is working for me. The central mystery here is intriguing and well put-together and the charming, funny, self-deprecating Ellery is a terrific central character, usually the sole voice of reason among all the quirky eccentricity of the other inhabitants of the Cove.   The writing is focused and sharp, and the nerd in me likes spotting the cosy tropes and how well the author has incorporated them.  A blow is dealt to the burgeoning romance between Ellery and Jack 😦 but they have too much chemistry for things to peter out completely, and given the author has recently announced this is to be an eight book series, there’s plenty of time for the two of them to work things out.  There’s much to be said for a slow-burn.

Secret at Skull House is a quick and enjoyable read, and I’m really looking forward to more.

TBR Challenge: Dangerous Ground (Dangerous Ground #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Special Agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt have been partners and best friends for three years, but everything changed the night Taylor admitted the truth about his feelings for Will.

Taylor agreed to a camping trip in the High Sierras — despite the fact that he hates camping — because Will wants a chance to save their partnership. But the trip is a disaster from the first, and things rapidly go from bad to worse when they find a crashed plane and a couple of million dollars in stolen money.

With a trio of murderous robbers trailing them, Will and Taylor are on dangerous ground, fighting for their partnership…and their lives.

Rating: B

I thought, when I saw April’s prompt – “freebie” – that it’d be easy to find a book to read for it, but when it came to it and I was searching my Kindle, I realised that my choices were limited by my memory; I couldn’t recall which books I’d picked up for free and which I’d paid for!  Fortunately, I remembered that I’d received a couple of free books when I signed up for Josh Lanyon’s mailing list a while back, so that solved my problem.

The Dangerous Ground series is a set of six novellas (the first was published in 2008, the last was published this year) featuring agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt.  They’re fast-moving stories – kind of like a TV episode in book form – and each instalment contains a complete mystery/investigation, but the relationship between the leads develops throughout. I knew this going in, so the abrupt ending of book one, Dangerous Ground wasn’t an issue as I knew there was more to come, and in fact, I enjoyed it so much I jumped straight into book two, Old Poison (and then bought the rest of the series.)

Taylor and Will have been partners and best friends for almost four years.  They’re very different in some ways – Will is the more settled and considered of the two, where Taylor is more impulsive – but they work well together and share a similar jaded worldview and sarcastic sense of humor.  But six weeks before Dangerous Ground opens, things between them went horribly wrong; Taylor was shot during an operation and Will is alternately furious – with Taylor for (as he thinks) carelessly looking for trouble – and beating himself up with guilt, believing it’s his fault Taylor was off his game.  The night before the shooting, Will and Taylor had gone out for a few drinks, which had ended with Taylor getting smashed and then telling Will how he felt about him. But Will turned him down.  It’s not that he’s blind to the fact that Taylor is gorgeous or that he isn’t attracted to him… but he doesn’t think the commitment-shy Taylor is a good bet for a relationship and doesn’t want to ruin what they already have.

The trouble is, that things are changing anyway and there’s nothing either of them can do about it.  Six weeks after Taylor was shot, and shortly before he’s due to return to work, Will suggests they go on a camping trip into the High Sierras… and although he hates camping, Taylor agrees.  There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Will and he, too, thinks that perhaps they need some time to sort out where they stand with each other.

The book starts a few days into the trip when Will and Taylor stumble across the wreckage of a small plane they realise was used in the infamous Black Wolf Casino heist a few months earlier.  The only body on board is that of the pilot – who was shot in the head – and there’s no sign of the other passengers.  What they do find, however, is the loot – over two million dollars, which they decide to stash in a bear box while they make their way down the mountain to alert the authorities.  But with that much money at stake, it’s not long before Will and Taylor find out they’re not the only ones on a trip into the mountains.  Only the armed men and woman who find them are clearly not there on vacation.

The author packs a surprising amount of plot into a relatively short page count, and keeps both the plot and romantic elements of the story moving smoothly in tandem.  I liked the way the backstory – the shooting, Taylor’s drunk declaration – was drip fed throughout the early chapters, the tension between them is palpable, and there’s no denying the pair have great chemistry.  There’s a really strong sense of place in the story, too, wonderfully evocative descriptions of the scenery, the warmth of the sun, the chill in the air and the sounds of nature.  On the downside, the characterisation is perhaps a little thin, as we don’t know a great deal about Will and Taylor, but as I said, this is the first of six, so there’s room for development on that front.

Dangerous Ground is fast-paced and entertaining, the leads are engaging and the author achieves a good balance between the suspense plot and the romance, with some high stakes action and steamy love scenes along the way.  It’s a quick read, but has enough depth to have made me care about the characters and want to know more about them.  I definitely intend to read the rest of the series.

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Something old, something new, something borrowed…something blacker than the darkest night.

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband, but his little white lies and some very black magic are about to bring their fairy tale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spell casters, and the only person Cosmo can turn to – the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him – isn’t taking his phone calls.

The only magic police commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch – one with something alarmingly like magical powers – is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him.

John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till death do them part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy.

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

I Buried a Witch is book two in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks series, and it picks up just a couple of weeks after the events of book one, Mainly by Moonlight. Because all three books are linked by an overarching plot, it’s fairly safe to say that this one doesn’t really work as a standalone. The author does include a bit of backstory and information about book one, but I think listeners will be best served by listening to the books in order so as to get the full picture.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced us to Cosmo Saville, antiques dealer and witch, and his fiancé John Galbraith, the newly appointed Police Commissioner for San Francisco. The story kicks off when Cosmo finds a business rival dead at his shop and after that it’s an almost non-stop few days of mayhem when one of Cosmo’s friends is left in a coma following a hit-and-run, one of his oldest friends disappears, he learns of the existence of a secret society that threatens the existence of the Craft (as witches are known) – and to top it all, someone tries to kill him on his wedding day. Oh, and there’s just one other problem that could put paid to the life he’s looking forward to building with the man he loves. Cosmo hasn’t told John he’s a witch. Oops.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Murder at Pirate’s Cove (Secrets & Scrabble #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!

Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.

Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.

Rating: B

Murder at Pirate’s Cove is the first book in a new series of cozy mysteries by Josh Lanyon – a kind of Adrien English meets Jessica Fletcher if you will! All the ingredients of the genre are there – a small village community, eccentric characters, dastardly doings and an intrepid hero; in this case one who ends up at the wrong end of a murder investigation!

Screenwriter Ellery Page left New York and his cheating boyfriend for the small Rhode Island resort town of Pirate’s Cove when he inherited a bequest from his great-great-great aunt Eudora. That bequest consisted of the town’s mystery bookshop, Crow’s Nest, and a rambling (and ramshackle) late-Victorian era house just outside town, and Ellery, feeling the need to make a change, has thrown himself into running the shop and renovating the house. He likes Pirate’s Cove, although he’s still something of an outsider, and is determined to make a go of things there… although three months in, he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to afford to stay if business doesn’t start to pick up soon.

Walking back to the shop from the pub late one evening, Ellery is surprised to see the lights are on – and even more surprised to find a dead body – dressed in a pirate costume – lying on the floor. Trevor Maples – a local property developer who was pressuring Ellery to sell Crow’s Nest – was a nasty piece of work, and the fact that he and Ellery were overheard in an altercation on the day Maples died means things don’t look too good for our hero. When the chief of police, Jack Carson (a former LAPD Homicide detective) makes it clear that Ellery is currently the number one suspect, Ellery decides that if the police aren’t looking for the real killer, then he’ll have to find something to persuade them to look elsewhere – and maybe even prove his own innocence. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that someone is actively trying to frame Ellery for the murders – but who, and why?

I’m not really the biggest fan of cozy mysteries – I tend to prefer my mysteries a bit grittier – but I do generally enjoy Josh Lanyon’s work and was keen to see what she’d do with the tropes. Like most genres, there are certain rules to be followed – the stories are usually fairly short with lighter plots, they’re set in a small town or village and the sleuth is often a reluctant amateur who gets him or herself into sticky situations because they’re actually investigating and snooping around rather than just interviewing people! – to name but a few. Ms. Lanyon sticks pretty closely to those rules and turns in a charming story that hooked me in, principally, I think, because Ellery is so completely loveable! Sweet, clever, funny and utterly relatable, he’s a delightful character, and his gentle wit had me smiling often:

The pup yawned in his ear and tucked his head more comfortably beneath Ellery’s chin. “Isn’t he adorable?” the mayor said in the polite tone of a cat person.

Or:

“I’d hate to think I’d moved to Cabot Cove by mistake.”

He’s the reader’s route into the community of Pirate’s Cove, with its aptly named shops and fun, colourful characters, but unlike many amateur sleuths, he’s practically clueless about crime shows and mystery novels. He doesn’t let that stop him, however; with someone going all out to frame him – and worse? – he can’t afford to just sit back and wait to be arrested.

The mystery is intriguing and well done, with deft application of red herrings and plenty of clues for the reader to follow, and the author has introduced an intriguing – and sometimes irritating – secondary cast I’m (mostly) looking forward to meeting again. There’s no romance as such in the book, but there’s a definite spark of interest between Ellery and the handsome, widowed police chief Jack Carson and I’m looking forward to watching their relationship develop in future books.

I honestly didn’t expect to find myself enjoying Murder at Pirate’s Cove as much as I did, but it turned out to be fast-paced and fun story – and even a non-fan of cozies like me found plenty to enjoy.

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

Cosmo is devastated but not ready to give up on his marriage quite yet, even though John refuses to see or speak to him. While he tries to find a way to repair the damage, Cosmo can’t help continuing to look for solutions to the various magical conundrums that surround him. Who is the so-called Witch Killer and how are they connected to the murder (in book one) of Seamus Reitherman? Who is responsible for the hit-and-run that almost killed his friend? And worse, who is trying to kill him? Combined with some of the questions left over from the first book, there’s a lot to unravel here, and clearly some of these questions won’t be answered until the final book in the series, Bell, Book and Scandal.

I continue to like Cosmo as a character; he’s made mistakes and doesn’t always listen to good advice, but he’s smart and funny and kind-hearted, and I really want him to get the HEA he wants and deserves. The trouble is that at the moment, I’m not convinced that John is the man for him. In my review of Mainly by Moonlight, I said I recognised hints that there was more to John than meets the eye; the fact that he seemed able to deflect much of Cosmo’s magic appeared to be important, and I was eager to find out why, but the reason given here – if it’s the real reason – is almost an afterthought and does nothing to shed light on John’s character. In fact, he continues to be overbearing and dismissive of Cosmo; the scene in which John expects Cosmo to deal with the contractors coming to build a pool at the back of their house when Cosmo has said, explicitly, that he’s terrified of water and doesn’t want a pool left me wondering (again) what on earth Cosmo sees in him. But then, John will do or say something that indicates he really does care a great deal for Cosmo, and I’m rooting for them to find their way back to one another. In fact, there’s something of an epiphany for Cosmo when he finally realises that theirs has never been a relationship between equals and that if they’re to have any chance at a future together, he must stop trying to be someone he’s not and start to assert himself – and most importantly, be himself.

I dithered a bit when it came to assigning a final grade for this book. I was caught up in the story and in spite of my reservations about John, I ended up really wanting him and Cosmo to work out their differences and make a fresh start. But then perhaps that’s a testament to the author’s skill; she’s created two very different characters in John and Cosmo, and in spite of the fact that one of them is much easier to like than the other – I usually find it difficult to enjoy a romance in which I feel one character doesn’t really deserve the other – has written them and their relationship in a way that has me wanting things to work out for them. I might not love John, but I believe, honestly and truly, that Cosmo does – and that makes me at least want to like him. So it’s a low-level recommendation from me for I Buried a Witch; I’m invested enough to want to see all the mystery elements brought to a conclusion and to see how John and Cosmo are able to come back from their separation and make their tentative reunion into something solid, so I’ll be picking up the final book in the trilogy when it’s released in the Spring.

Mainly by Moonlight (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #1) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A gay high-society wedding. A stolen book of spells. A love-threatening lie.

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 races to prove his fiancée’s innocence before they take their vows.

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: Narration – B; Content – B

Josh Lanyon’s paranormal mystery/romance Bedknobs and Broomsticks series is a little bit different to her normal fare. Mainly by Moonlight, the first book (of three), is a fun and mostly light-hearted tale in which San Francisco antiques dealer Cosmo Saville – 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, John Galbraith. In the course of the story, listeners are introduced to the magical society of the Craft and its hierarchy, and to an interesting principal and secondary cast; but please note that the book sets in motion a number of plot points that will run across all three instalments, so listeners will need to listen to all three books in order to experience the whole of the story.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.