London is being plagued by a serial murderer, dubbed the Bow Tie Killer by police because of the way his victims are found with a silk scarf neatly tied around their necks after their throats have been slit. The killer is being hunted by CID, led by Detective Inspector Anthony Parglietto, but whoever this is, he leaves no clues and does not distinguish his victims by race, gender, or sexuality.
When Anthony’s partner of six months is abducted by the Bow Tie Killer, Flynn is lucky to be returned to his flat, abused but alive, and with a promise that the murderer will be in contact so that Flynn, a journalist, can tell his story. Flynn has to lie to Anthony about the emails, putting the safety of the man he loves before possible arrest for aiding a criminal. However, when the next murder occurs and both men accept the fact that the killer has a personal vendetta against Anthony, Flynn is forced to admit all he knows. The question then is not just whether Anthony and Flynn’s relationship can survive, but whether they will they walk away from this with their lives.
My love for gay romance began with Susan Mac Nicol’s Saving Alexander and since then I have been lucky enough to read all of her books, apart from one — until now. I actually purchased Love and Punishment upon its release, but shelved it on my TBR pile, partly because of other reading commitments, but also because of the genre. Yet when the TBR Week reading challenge was announced, Love and Punishment was my immediate choice.
I had reservations about enjoying a crime thriller, especially when the remainder of Mac Nicol’s novels are emotionally charged romances. But OMG, I was not prepared for Love and Punishment to hit me so hard! Mac Nicol does not pull any punches when it comes to her graphic descriptions, and her characterizations are fascinating and all-consuming.
The reader is immediately thrown into the chaos as Flynn’s abduction takes place in the first chapter. We learn about the killer through their conversation, but we may as well be wearing Flynn’s blindfold because we are unable to identify who this man is. Mac Nicol does ensure that the reader gains a very real sense of the danger Flynn is in and the coldness of the man known as BTK.
Love and Punishment‘s beginning not only gives us the story’s background, but introduces Flynn and Anthony as an established couple. The reader also glimpses Flynn’s bravery and determination, as well as Anthony’s stubbornness and devotion to his partner. Despite the violation that Flynn has suffered, the passion between him and Anthony is palpable and for them, sex is their harbor in the storm.
As the story evolves, Mac Nicol continues to develop Anthony and Flynn’s characters and they are both placed under very extreme pressures. Anthony’s work ethic is questioned, as are his very strong views on how he believes criminals like BTK should be punished. Whether or not the reader agrees with his opinions, it does mean is a Love and Punishment thought-provoking read.
Mac Nicol’s writing is pure genius in this novel. The identity of the Bow Tie Killer is revealed to the reader, even before we aware of this, and his character is utterly chilling. We have an insight into his thoughts, actions, and motives, and his disregard for human life.
I admit that there were parts of Love and Punishment where I felt uncomfortable and one point very close to the story’s climax I said out loud “I’m not sure I can read any more”. Yet, I do not see this as a bad thing, in fact quite the opposite. I was totally gripped by the story and yes, it may not have provided the escapism of a sweet romance, but it is Challenge Month! I thought I might be disappointed by the book’s final chapters, but truthfully they provide a cool down period for the reader and I really needed that relief.
Love and Punishment has now overtaken the spot long held by Saving Alexander in my heart and is now my favorite book by Mac Nicol. This is a powerful and suspenseful story, but still has strong elements of romance, sexual desire, and an emotional quality that are Mac Nicol’s trademarks. If, like me, Love and Punishment has been sat on your “to read” shelf, then now is the time to take it down!
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for TBR Pile Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of this week’s fabulous prizes from NineStar Press. One lucky winner will receive a copy of all the NineStar Press releases for six months in ebook, and another will win a collection of seven print books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on TBR Pile Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!