Jackson Rivers is still recovering from the gunshot wound that capped off his last case, but he can not rest while Tim Owens is still at large. While the police aren’t convinced that Owens is a threat, Jackson and his boyfriend, Ellery Cramer, know that the former cop is unstable and dangerous. Given Jackson’s bad reputation in the police department, most of the cops are unwilling to listen to him. So with the body count piling up, Jackson and Ellery take it upon themselves to try to track Owens down.
It soon becomes clear that Owens is aware of Jackson and Ellery’s efforts and begins to take steps to drawn them out, including threatening those that Jackson cares most about. Jackson is injured and sick and completely run ragged, but despite Ellery’s best efforts, Jackson puts aside caring for himself until Owens is caught. Ellery knows that Jackson needs to stay in this fight, not just because helping these victims is the right thing to do, but also because Jackson needs to feel strong again in the face of Owen’s attacks. But watching the man he loves struggle is hard for Ellery, especially when Jackson refuses to take care of himself. When Owens threatens Jackson just as he is the most vulnerable, it takes everything Ellery has to keep Jackson from bailing on their fledgling relationship.
Red Fish, Dead Fish is a great follow up to Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water. It takes place a couple of months after that book ends and picks up in the aftermath of that case with the men trying to track down Owens. In some ways the guys are solid in their relationship; it is clear that they both care for each other very much. But Jackson is still having trouble emotionally fully committing, especially when his own self doubts cause him to constantly question whether he is a liability for Ellery who might be better off without him. I enjoyed seeing how their relationship progressed in this book, both the way the men fall deeper in love, but also how they take care of one another. Ellery, in particular, is so interesting as he struggles to find that line between caring for Jackson, who needs a keeper half the time, and between giving Jackson the emotional space he needs in order to feel strong. Jackson is such a prickly, fascinating character and I think Lane does a great job in this series showing how these men complement one another and help make each other stronger.
The suspense part of the story is done well here also. As the case picks up where the first book left off, you really will want to have read Fish Out of Water first. But there is enough of a recap here that I could remember the basics and picked back up on the storyline pretty easily even a year later. The story is twisty and exciting, and at times kind of horrifying. We can really feel the intensity, not just of the horrors Owen’s perpetrates, but also Jackson’s reaction as he gets caught in the middle. The case balances well with the relationship end and Lane intertwines them in a way that makes them complement each other well. I did find the first part of the story to be a lot to take in. It just feel like we were hurling forward from one crisis to the next and Jackson seems to be hanging on by a thread the whole time, and there were places where I felt like the story just needed to stop for a breath so I could absorb everything that was going on. So I think maybe a little more pacing here would have helped.
Lane connects the case with Owens to a bit of a bigger picture that involves two characters from another of her books, Sonny and Ace from Racing for the Sun. We learn that Ellery and Jackson met the men while they were working on an unrelated case, and it turns out Sonny and Ace are connected with Owens through a few degrees of separation. While that sub plot doesn’t come fully into play here, it does appear that the next book in the series will focus on it more and Sonny and Ace are likely to become involved. So not only do we learn here about how the four men met, but Ellery and Jackson also find out about a key event from Racing for the Sun that took place when Sonny and Ace were in the military.
So on one hand, I loved Racing for the Sun, so it was kind of fun to catch up with Sonny and Ace here. And I think the way Lane connects the books was interesting. But on the other hand, I had a few issues. First off, if you haven’t read Racing for the Sun, the description of that key event from the book feels like kind of a spoiler. On top of that, I am not sure how easy it would be to really grasp what happened to the men or a lot of the significance of the things Jackson and Ellery learn about them without having read their story. Second, Jackson and Ellery keep talking about what happened when they met Sonny and Ace on that other case, but I found it confusing given that we as readers didn’t see that event take place, we only hear about it. It was obviously pivotal, but I felt somewhat lost.
Now what Lane does do here is include four short stories after the end of the novel, at around the 90% mark. These stories were published in blogs before Lane wrote Red Fish, Dead Fish. Two of them focus on Ellery and Jackson specifically, and two of them focus on Sonny and Ace and the case that led to the four men meeting. So it felt a little backwards to me in that we hear about this incident in a vague (and confusing to me) way in this book, and then the story recounting it is put at the end of the book as an add on. Given that most of the readers won’t have likely seen the stories on the blogs before picking this book up, I kind of wish Lane had built those two stories into this larger book so we were seeing the event in context instead of after this book was over. That said, I am not really sure what I would recommend here. Part of me kind of wonders if readers might want to start with the four short stories before reading this, but the other half kind of wonders if that may spoil things, so I really don’t know what’s best.
Red Fish, Dead Fish does end the story of Owens and leaves the men in a good place, but they have a thread from that investigation that they are clearly following from here. So the book sets up in the next in the series nicely and I am really looking forward to continuing on with Jackson and Ellery. The suspense is done so well, and the relationship between Ellery and Jackson is really engaging. So I enjoyed this story and I can’t wait for more.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.