This should have been one of the highlights of Carter Matheson’s life. When he planned the guided tour of Scotland more than a year ago, he was chuffed. The tour theme centered around the locales made famous in the works of Carter’s favorite author, Vanessa Rayburn, and he was looking forward to sharing the experience with his boyfriend. Except between booking the tour and attending the tour, things turned south between Carter and Trevor. Instead of a precursor to marriage, they were caput. Rather than let the pre-paid trip go to waste, though, Carter is determined to enjoy himself…if he can stand seeing Trevor fawn all over his current man.
The excitement of touring Scotland helps Carter forget (at least, not when he’s trapped on the tour bus with Trevor), but even better is the enigmatic roommate that joins the tour at the last minute. John Knight is easy on the eyes and, to Carter’s surprise, rather good company. Especially when Trevor and his beaux start making the trip difficult for Carter by spreading rumors and staging confrontations, John Knight proves he’s got no problems calling Trevor out on his bad behavior.
Things take a turn for the weird, however, when Carter learns John’s got some ulterior motives—ones he’s not at liberty to share with Carter. To add to tension, Carter finds himself running into some bad luck. An accidental push sends him sprawling into the street and very nearly under the wheels of a mini cooper, the room he shares with John gets broken into, and more than one of his fellow tourists rope him into a salacious story about how a guest on the same tour last year wound up dead. As Carter gathers more and more puzzle pieces, he begins to wonder if there truly isn’t something foul afoot—and if it’s coming after him.
I could not put this down. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but when I DID put it down, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. While I think the book reflects what I guess has become Lanyon’s ‘bag’ (that is, an author who writes about authors…often involving murder/thriller/mystery aspects), I was still enormously entertained. I suppose this is proof positive that even an old bag can be a good one, provided it’s well written.
There are so many things I enjoyed. First, I liked that the characters are a bit “older.” Stories featuring young, nubile characters are a dime a dozen, but life doesn’t end after your 20s so this was a change of pace from the other books I’ve been reading. Next, I really liked that these characters are *interesting.* There is sort of a love triangle present between Carter, John, and Trevor. I think Lanyon does a great job introducing the bitter disappointment Carter has over the sour end to his and Trevor’s relationship, then brings Trevor himself onto the page in a way that had me wondering if I ought to be rooting for a “lovers reunited” kind of story. Lanyon keeps this will-they-won’t-they theme on the back burner. Almost immediately after this is established, though, we get introduced to John. Here, too, I really liked how the character gets worked into the on-page dynamic. Even better, he’s funny. I’ve read a few Lanyon titles, but this is the first time I feel like I can state, unequivocally, one of the characters just feels like he’s got perfect timing (note: John is certainly NOT a comedian, nor is this a comedy; rather, John is a character who can defuse a situation with a well-placed remark). The more I saw John on-page, the more I wanted to see him and Carter get together.
Next, I personally identified with the sprit of adventure. This is Carter’s first trip abroad (first trip period, really) and the way the scenes are described reminded me of my own travel to the UK. Perhaps this is due to my own personal feelings about the UK, but Scotland has such a great sense of mystery and excitement that it made for a great setting for Carter’s trip. The prose is peppered with just enough description to recall my own mental images of Scotland without bogging down whole sections with descriptive writing. Much of the action takes place in the manor houses-turned-hotels, which adds to the air of mystery in my opinion—drafty old buildings with history, old artifacts, twisty halls, and so on.
As far as the plot goes, well, you know there’s going to be a murder or at least an attempt. The way the bad apples figure into the story was clever. Given that this is a book-themed tour of Scotland, you have a small and regular cast of repeating characters—so the guilty parties are there from the beginning. Yet until the action started to unfold during the climax, I didn’t feel 100% confident of crossing anyone but our narrator Carter off the “guilty” list. That said, some elements of why the murder was going to happen were unclear to me, even after they were spelled out (but then, I’m no avid reader of mysteries so maybe my brain just isn’t trained to fit so many puzzle pieces together).
Nevertheless, the climactic scenes are still climactic and Carter’s relationships with John and Trevor really kept me turning pages. Lanyon does hit on one phenomenon: spending time in close quarters with the same group of people breeds familiarity. While we’re meant to understand that this is how Carter develops rather deeper connections to all his tour-mates than you’d otherwise expect, I think Lanyon captured this dynamic excellently between Carter and John.
On the whole, if you like Lanyon, you will like this book. Otherwise, it’s a great choice for a lazy day or anyone who enjoys mystery/thrillers. The romance is well paced and feels genuine despite how short of a time John and Carter are actually together. The drama runs high with a tour bus full of mystery buffs and ends with a bang when these fans of murder novels are thrown into their very own whodunit scenario.