Cloister Witte is an officer in the K-9 unit in a small town in the San Diego suburbs. His latest case involves a 10-year-old boy who is missing from a family vacation. Young Drew seems to have walked off into the woods and no one knows what happened. Along with his dog Bourneville, it is Cloister’s job to track the boy and get him home. To Cloister’s irritation, he is working with FBI Agent Javi Merlo, a man he has had past conflicts with professionally, but who at the same time he finds distractingly attractive.
As Cloister and Javi investigate Drew’s disappearance, it soon becomes clear that Drew didn’t run away, but was kidnapped. Not only that, but he doesn’t seem to be the first child taken. The men know that the longer Drew is gone, the less likely it is that the boy will ever be found alive. Now it is a race against time to figure out who has kidnapped him, what the motive is, and how to get Drew back alive.
Bone to Pick is an excellent police thriller with some really interesting characters. I was totally engrossed in the case and Javi and Cloister (and Bourneville’s) race against time to find Drew and figure out who is behind the kidnapping. The case is twisty and the pacing is spot on, keeping things interesting and intense. I’ll admit, I did figure out the who pretty early on, but the how and why remained a mystery to the end and the way it all plays out is really fascinating. I particularly loved the dynamic between Cloister and Bourneville. The insight into the human/canine partnership was fascinating and Moore gives lots of great little details into how the two work together. I loved reading about the ways Bourneville contributes to the investigation and how her skills complement what the human police force is doing.
I also enjoyed both these men, Cloister in particular. He is such a fascinating guy, stoic and a bit rough around the edges. Cloister is the kind of guy who looks tough enough that he scares most people and he isn’t interested in a whole lot of human interaction, but he is a good, caring guy underneath. I enjoyed the dynamic between him and the more polished, kind of arrogant Javi. They were a nice opposites attract with an enemies to lovers vibe as these guys make each other nuts, but also are totally hot for one another. I think Moore does a nice job slowly building the men from always irritated with one another to realizing that they may just get along after all.
I’ll note that this story is not an HEA, and not even a traditional HFN. The guys reach a point where they are mostly able to be together without sniping at one another, and they have some hot sexual encounters, but they aren’t really there with the romantic feelings just yet. Both men start off with the idea that this is just sex, and it slowly moves to friendship and respect. But toward the end of the book, while one of them seems to be open to more, the other still is insisting that it is just a sexual encounter. There is a hint in the epilogue that it might be changing, but nothing concrete. I kept expecting more to happen romantically between them, but it never quite gets there. Honestly, this didn’t bother me as I enjoyed the men together and really for me this story was all about the mystery. But if you are looking for love or even a strong romantic component, you aren’t going to really get that here.
Now this book isn’t listed as a sequel anywhere, but after talking to the author, it appears that there is now likely to be another book coming. So given that, Javi and Cloister’s friends/enemies with benefits works better as the first step in their relationship, even though it seemed like kind of a strange place to end this book. Aside from the relationship, there are some other loose ends that I felt like were either unaddressed or underdeveloped here in this story. First off, I feel like we get to know very little about the background of either man. The blurb mentions about Cloister that “after growing up in the shadow of a missing brother, a deadbeat dad, and a criminal stepfather, he’d rather leave the past back in Montana.” However, all we get is a very cursory mention of the missing brother and how it affected Cloister’s relationship with his mom, and his father and stepfather are mentioned just in passing. We never even learn in the book that he is from Montana, let alone the specifics of the past he is leaving behind. For this information to be right at the start of the blurb, I felt like it should have been part of the book, but it is barely even mentioned. This seemed particularly odd because so much of Cloister’s personality seems shaped by this past we barely learn about.
Along the same lines, we learn almost nothing about Javi. Early on he mentions that it was his friend Saul’s “intervention after Phoenix that got Javi posted here instead of moldering away somewhere quiet and unobtrusive.” To me this implies something significant happened in Phoenix, but we don’t learn anything about it. Nor do we really learn much about Saul himself, despite the fact that he seems to be a pivotal character to Javi and others in the book. So I felt like there were elements here that I kept waiting to see developed or learn more about that never turned into anything. Again, now that it appears another book is in the works, I think these issues are far less severe than if this were a standalone, but I still felt like there were a lot of places where some more development would have helped.
All that said, I was able to overlook these issues because I found the mystery element so engrossing. I was really caught up in the story, and I loved the dynamic between Javi and Cloister. It isn’t quite romance, but their dynamic is engaging and I found myself completely captivated by this one. T.A. Moore is fast becoming a go to author for me, and I think this is another really enjoyable story. I can definitely recommend this for fans of mystery/suspense stories, particularly if you love a good dog as well!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.