Detective Peter Tao and his partner, Dectective Jamey Nolan, have just been given a gruesome new case. A young man was found murdered in an alley, killed by a swift, clean stab to the neck and castrated. In the days that follow, more men are found dead with similar wounds, and the only clue left behind is a red hair.
One thing all these men have in common is their involvement in the adult dating service Ashley Madison, which allows married men and women to cheat on their partners with other married men and women–and Jamey is a member. Peter, whose previous lover cheated on him, is drawn deeper into this case as he tries to keep his best friend and partner from being the next victim.
In the midst of all this madness, Peter finds himself falling for a man who should be off limits. Bryce Carrik, a CEO of SeattleCarrik, lost his company and his marriage when word got out that he had an active account at Ashley Madison. Not only did he cheat on his wife, but he did so with other men. But Bryce has found someone worth risking his life for when he crosses paths with Peter Tao. He just has to convince Peter, who has already suffered a broken heart, that forgiveness is possible.
As a police procedural, Hacked Up brings forth all the familiar tropes. The good cop, the not-so-good-cop, the genius tech, the hard-as-nails captain, and a tangled knot of a case that unraveles slowly and mockingly. Red herrings–some with red hair, some without–are shown to us and then whisked away like a magician’s trick. Just when I think I’m in a book that zigs and zags, the story goes up and down. The book gives a plethora of possible killers and dances them away. It’s the main villain that really works in this story. The killer’s motivations are, at first glance, painfully simple.
Cheating is at the heart of this story, and the damage that can occur to a family when the bonds of trust between them are broken. Marriages end, spouses are left broken–sometimes past repair–and when children are involved, it harms them, too. The killer saw the damage done to his family when his father betrayed his mother, and he was witness to her pain and despair as it drove her to suicide. He was left with a broken idea of what a relationship was, what it ought to be. He chose a lover for himself that accepted an open marriage and encouraged fantasies of the killer cheating on him–all using Ashley Madison.
But one killer wasn’t enough for the author, who added in a second. And while it added complexity to the story and helped keep the villain from quicker discovery, it was a weak point in the book for me. While the primary villain’s motivations worked, the secondary villain just sort of follows along, doing what he’s told and serves to help fill in a few plot holes. I don’t object to him, but I do think his inclusion weakens the final confrontation. But this aspect isn’t the weakest part of the book. That would be the main protagonist and the love interest.
Peter Tao is a likeable main character. So much so that everyone likes him, even the people trying to kill him. He’s blandly inoffensive and more than a little bit of a goody-two-shoes. He’s a good cop, a good partner, a good shot, and an all-around nice guy. He is without flaw, without interest or honest emotion, and is rather boring. The love interest, Bryce, offends me. His reaction to seeing Peter–after a misunderstanding that leads to them exchanging blows–is insta-lust. So strong an insta-lust that he takes up stalking Peter, breaking into his house and following him while Peter’s on the case. Bryce looks up his Korean name and uses it on Peter, refusing to stop even when Peter asks him to. It’s unrealistic and a little alarming.
I truly enjoyed the procedural aspects of the story. The romance, however, didn’t work for me. The characters were too two-dimensional, Bryce comes across as an unhealthy love-interest, and Peter bored me. Half of this book is a four-star read, easily, and if you like mysteries and thrillers I think you’ll enjoy Hacked Up.