Walking home late one night, Max stumbles upon some rough types beating a man. Past experience has all but proven there is little more Max can do other than surreptitiously ring the police. Before help arrives, the beating is finished—except one particularly vindictive assailant deals a final blow that leaves the man bleeding out on the pavement. Once they’re gone, Max rushes to the man’s side with only enough time to watch the light in his eyes fade to nothing.
Of course, the next several hours and days would be fraught for Max. Yet there is something more than just transposing tragedy onto his own life. That sliver of a moment when their gazes locked, something in Max changed profoundly. A few days later, Max is haunted by more than the memory of a life extinguished…he’s haunted by the very man—Nick—who died in his arms.
In the following days and weeks, the two men come to terms with the conditions of Nick’s apparent afterlife. For one thing, he is incorporeal to everyone save Max. For another, one of Nick’s former colleagues reveals the existence of a network of specialists whose work is best described as “divine.” Amidst all the new and unimaginable ways reality has apparently warped for Max and Nick, through it all they discover a kinship that quickly grows into the strongest of bonds. Even as they fall deeper into their romance, two dire challenges await them: How to keep Max safe from the criminals who murdered Nick and, more significantly, how to carry on a love affair when one man is alive and the other is not?
At the center of this story are, of course, Max and Nick. Max works as a writer and has just managed to sell one of his series to a production company. His professional success is something of a triumph since the character has survived an off-page, now-defunct relationship with a man who was both emotionally and physically abusive. These two aspects make Max a mix of self-sufficient and vulnerable. Clearly, the reader can imagine that Max has carved out an independent, functional life for himself. However, the story picks up almost immediately with Max meeting they dying Nick, so most of what we see of Max is done in such a way that highlights how deeply his former lover affected him. Mostly, I found the penchant for hurt-comfort scenes between Max and Nick appealing. Like my inner princess complex, I like to think all “good” relationships are all about both characters being unconditionally supportive of the other. There was a time or two, however, where I thought these kind of vignettes crossed into “comfort-by-way-of-sex” and while I’m not necessarily against that, the timing with regards to what was going on plot-wise to drive the need for comfort irked me (more on that below).
Nick, on the other hand, was a police officer. After he dies, we learn he is basically tethered to Max and, more interestingly, although Nick generally has no physical form and cannot really physically interact with his environment, he is 100% corporeal to Max. This means that, as long as he is touching Max, he can interact with Max and the rest of the environment as though he were not just an unbodied soul. As much page-time as Nick gets, I find myself strugglingly to describe just who this man is outside of what he represents to Max. In other words, I got the impression that Nick’s function in the story is to provide Max with whatever emotional/physical reassurances Max needs. I don’t think this completely renders Nick’s character as worthless, just less of an independent character. One aspect of their early relationship I thought was interesting was that, given how the two must stay in immediate proximity to each other and Max is apparently the only one who can see him, both men wonder if they’re getting some screwed up version of Stockholm Syndrome.
The book raises some interesting points. I liked that it wasn’t a typical “ghost” coming back, but a man’s soul. I like to think that is the reason why Max was able to see and touch Nick where no one else really could, though that point was never explicitly clarified. There’s also that Stockholm Syndrome thing going on which, again, was a completely valid point but it kind of ended up falling by the wayside in favor of just having these two fall in love. I suppose both of these can be explained away by the idea that these two are soulmates…but I would have liked to have had a bit more concrete exposition on these two points.
Some aspects of the plot/action irked me. The one that gave me a literal LOL was where Max, who was unquestionably being targeted by the same people who killed Nick, was taken into “protective custody.” The author chose to equate “protective custody” with Max spending a few days at a police officer’s personal residence. By no means am I any sort of legal expert, but I’m pretty sure “protective custody” isn’t sleeping over at a police officer’s house, so that aspect of the story felt poorly researched to me. Also, as much as I enjoyed the hurt-comfort bits between Max and Nick, there was one particular one where Max has just been released from the hospital after having nearly been run over by a car. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and was concussed; Nick was distraught over knowing this was all due Max’s having witnessed Nick’s murder. So Max’s is physically and emotionally wrung out and Nick’s trying to take all the blame for it himself. So how do they resolve their insecurities? By getting busy. While Max is in “protective custody.” And there just happened to be lube in the guest bedroom where Max was staying.
Although I thought the author sacrificed some chances to showcase a nuanced, complex relationship blooming between Max and Nick in favor of writing sex scenes or moving the plot along, the book overall is an okay read. I haven’t read many stories where one of the principles is a ghost, but this one offers something just a touch different in that Nick’s not a ghost per se but a soul, so conventional ghost behavior need-not apply. And for all that the characters get physical at times I think it would be inadvisable/insensitive, it wasn’t a total deal breaker for me. In short, If you’re looking for a quick read with high drama and a conundrum about how a living man and a dead man can get, then stay, together, this would be a good book for you.