Chris Mason has recently joined his brother, Dylan, and his brother’s friend, Ron, in their burgeoning detective agency. However, it soon turns out that Chris brought along more than his skills in computers. He also managed to pick up a stalker, a stalker who has already killed at least one innocent victim and shows no hesitation in adding even more bodies to the final tally.
During one of his first jobs with his brother and Ron, Chris is startled to see a photograph of himself impaled by a knife and surrounded by red snapdragon flowers. “What you love the most will suffer the greatest” is left written on the wall, and the dead body of a woman is found in the room. Soon after this grisly discovery, Chris is attacked by a masked assailant.
Dylan and Ron were high-profile detectives, managing to catch the notorious Gentleman Killer before they decided to leave the force and open a detective agency. The Gentleman Killer left flowers for his victims, much as flowers were left at this latest crime scene. Are the two connected? Did the Gentleman Killer have a partner, an admirer? And what does this mysterious attacker want with Chris?
Soon Dylan and Ron are framed for yet another murder by Chris’s stalker, leaving Chris alone, without their support. Even James, the man he’s been trying to date — with no help at all from his overprotective brother — is acting different. With allegations about crooked cops, even more murders, and Ron’s creepy ex-brother in law trying to ‘help,’ Chris is soon left wondering who he can trust.
Due to the nature of the story — with Chris being kept safe and protected on one hand by his boyfriend James, and his brother and Ron on the other — Chris ends up being left out of much of the investigation. While he is by no means a passive character, he is nonetheless not really a part of the gathering of clues, interviewing of witnesses, and deadly gunfights that make up many police procedurals.
So much of the story rests on heavily Chris’ shoulders. Through his eyes we see the story unfold. The fear he feels from the stalker, the fear he feels for his brother — out there playing cat-and-mouse with the murderer — the uncertainties and doubts that plague him as the relationship between he and James grows. If it weren’t for how likable and sympathetic a character Chris is, it would make for a dull story for the reader.
There are two parts of this book I would like to highlight: The writing and the relationships. Or rather, Chris’ relationship with James, the police detective, and Chris’ relationship with Ron, his brother’s friend. There was a time in the past when Chris had a bit of a crush on Ron, and as we see in the book, Ron has similar feelings, himself. There are moments when it’s clear Ron regrets not having taken things to the next level, but knowing that Chris is involved with James, he is respectful of their relationship and so lets it go. I love the fact that Ron is not callous or cruel enough to break up an existing relationship just so he can have a chance to start something that never took off in the first place. I also like that James and Chris aren’t idiots, and when one of them makes a mistake, he’s man enough to not only realize it, but apologize for it. The two of them communicate through the story and are willing to talk through the issues in their relationship.
Smart characters, characters who communicate, and adult relationships will always get a thumbs up from me. The other thumbs up is in regards to the writing. For the first chapters of the book, I wondered if I was reading a sequel. So much was effortlessly implied — both about the Ron and Dylan’s relationships with James and the police force, as well as the relationships between Dylan, Ron, and Chris. I felt as though I was reading about characters who had already had adventures together. Imagine my surprise when I found out this was Wooley’s first published work.
However, there are also a few problems with this story. One, there are too many killers. The stalker, the three or four people he hires to help him commit murders, and then the fellow he’s blackmailing into helping him stalk Chris. Add to that the red herring and we have over half a dozen people involved in stalking one guy and murdering random women. It’s clunky and needlessly convoluted.
And then there’s the killer himself. He’s introduced late in the book, has almost no dealings with Chris, and his motive is the lazy and offensive
Frankly, even the red herring had a better motive for stalking Chris than the killer did.
It’s a well-written story, but there’s too much attention being paid to too many murderers, and the final killer’s tired motives don’t work for me. I will look forward to this author’s next work, but I will not revisit this one.