Rating: 4.5 stars
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Walter Simon is an ex-cop, helping out his friend Vargas by looking into some strange happenings at Vargas’ upscale gay sex club, the Haven. In addition to missing inventory and other small problems, Vargas has found one of his guest rooms mysteriously used with signs of a struggle and a recent client seems to be missing. While in the club investigating what is going on, a young man catches Walter’s eye. It is clear that the man is uncomfortable and clearly new to both the club and being around other gay men. Something about the man intrigues Walter and he wants to know more.
Kevin Price may just be in over his head. He is a reporter under cover investigating some disappearances at the Haven. Although deep down he knows he is gay, Kevin has been pretty far in the closet ever since an incident years before. He is both freaked out and turned on by the Haven, but he is also determined to find out what is really going on with the missing men. When he connects with Walter, the men put their notes together and find out there is more going on than either expected. There appear to be many disappearances of Haven employees and staff, and though some have been reported to the police, there seems to be no effort to really investigate or to connect the disappearances to the Haven. But the two of them are committed to finding out what is going on, even if it means risking their own lives in the process.
What neither expects when they begin the investigation together is that they will fall for one another. Walter is older, almost 50, and he has shut himself off from love after losing his partner years before. Although he is incredibly attracted to Kevin, Walter doesn’t think the younger man belongs with someone 20 years his senior. Kevin is just discovering his sexuality and Walter doesn’t want him to be saddled with an older man and one day be left alone. Kevin has no problems with the age difference and finds Walter not just engaging, but incredibly sexy as well. Being with Walter gives Kevin the courage to finally accept that he is gay to and to open himself up to a relationship and sex with another man. Even though he knows Walter will eventually push him away, Kevin is determined to stick it out with the man he is growing to love. But even if Walter can accept that their love is meant to be, the two guys must first make it through the increasingly dangerous investigation. As the kidnapper becomes fixated on Kevin, the men must find a way to catch the bad guy and before he catches Kevin.
How to Save a Life is the first book in Sloan Parker’s new Haven series. For those of you who read her book More, the Haven is the club where Matthew, Luke, and Richard first meet and that appears prominently in that story. While Walter is a side character in that book, this story is more a spin off than a sequel. The More threesome do make some casual appearances in this story, but you definitely don’t need to have read More to understand and appreciate this book.
I found How to Save a Life really enjoyable and a great balance between romance and suspense. Often in books with a mystery or thriller plot, we tend to get either a lot of suspense or a lot of romance and the other side gets shortchanged. But here Parker does a great job giving us both a really nice romance between Walter and Kevin, as well as an exciting and fast-paced story with a great mystery component. I love how Walter and Kevin are outwardly so different in age and life experience. But that determination to help others, to get to the bottom of a problem, and to risk their own happiness for something important really ties them together. I loved watching them each find themselves as they start off so scared of a relationship and end up realizing the other person is just what they need. And the thriller plot is really well done. The mystery is complex enough to take many twists and turns, keeping me guessing far into the story. But at the same time not so complex and convoluted that the reader gets tangled up in the plot at the expense of the rest of the story. It is exciting and intense with lots of heart pumping moments.
I think the biggest hurdle for this book is really the length. It clocked in at almost three hundred pages on my ereader and things sagged a bit in the middle for me. I think part of it is the attempt to give time to both the romance and the mystery, but things definitely slowed down for me in parts and the story lost some steam between the two big action sequences. Related to this, I feel like some of the themes or issues became a bit belabored. Most noticeable is Walter’s concerns about the age difference between them. I realize this is a key theme, but it gets brought up over and over (and once more still even after everything seems to be resolved). It started to feel repetitious, and each time I thought things had been settled, it came up again. To a lesser extent I noticed this with Kevin’s jealously of Walter’s past relationships with other men, and how somehow Kevin kept assuming everyone was a former (or current) love interest of Walter’s. I think tightening up the story would have addressed both these issues as well as the slower portions of the book.
But overall I really, really liked this one. I love Parker’s writing and I think she does a great job creating a lovely romance in the midst of a super exciting thriller. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the rest of this series (and I am just DYING for the next follow up to More). So I would definitely recommend this one highly and can’t wait for more.
Cover review: Yes, this is just a stock image and no, these guys don’t really seem like Walter and Kevin. But it really is yummy, isn’t it?