Jack Reardon and Ethan Blade are trying to make a go of a relationship together. In fact, Ethan is even retiring and moving in with Jack. But trying to make a relationship work between a former assassin and a government spy isn’t easy, especially for someone with Ethan’s past. Jack knows he needs to tread carefully, as this whole thing is new to Ethan and Jack worries one wrong move will scare him off. And it is not like Jack has been so successful in his own relationships. But these guys have found something special together and they want to try to make it work.
Matters are complicated when Jack is pulled in to consult with the police as they track a serial killer. The case is taking its toll on him, not just because of the long hours or the fruitless investigation, but also because studying the serial killer brings things a little close to home with his former assassin boyfriend. The situation gets even worse when the killer strikes close to home, and still worse when someone puts out a contract on Jack’s life. Suddenly the case is beginning to twist and turn, bringing connections back to Jack’s personal life, to Ethan, and to both their pasts. And with Ethan disappearing, their personal relationship gets even more complicated and Jack wonders if they can really make it work. Now Jack and Ethan have to figure out who is behind the killings and who wants Jack dead if they are going to be able to sort out their relationship and make it out alive.
Why the Devil Stalks Death is the followup to the incredible Where Death Meets the Devil by L.J. Hayward. I went crazy for that first book, so I was thrilled to see Hayward was continuing the Death and the Devil series and reuniting us once again with these fabulous characters and her taut thriller style. When I read the first book, I was blown away by the storyline, but also by the way that Hayward weaves together two timelines, and this book continues that style. One storyline takes place several months ago as Jack is assigned to help the police with the serial murder case. On the personal side, it has been months since he has seen Ethan and he is a little uncertain about things between them. The second timeline takes place in present day as the serial killer case is moved to the Office and Jack is starting up investigating the same case, this time with his colleagues as they try to uncover the killer. We learn that things are dicey with him and Ethan, but we don’t learn why right away, just that Jack did something that caused a conflict between them. Jack also learns that he has a contract out on his life, and so he needs to evade one killer while searching for another.
Once again, Hayward does an amazing job building these two timelines and it makes the story incredibly intense and exciting. She is just masterful at taking the story back and forth and having it not only make sense, but enhance the storytelling by connecting the two timelines in such interesting ways. There are just such nice details as we learn things in one time period that don’t fully get developed until another. Not to mention lots of tension as critical things happen and we have to wait for the return to that time period to see it play out. As I said in my review of the first book, it could be a jumbled mess, but Hayward is so skilled it just comes together nicely. My only issue here is that as the story first starts, the timelines felt a little too similar to me to easily track where I was. In both instances, Jack is starting the serial killer case, the difference being the first time he is working with the police and the second time with the Office. So I did find I had to orient myself a bit at the start of each chapter to remember what was happening in each timeline. Once the story developed more, however, I had no trouble keeping up and I found it incredibly exciting and so superbly written.
As good as the action is, this story really develops Jack and Ethan’s relationship on a deeper level. Not just that, but we really delve a lot more into each man individually, particularly Ethan. We learn a lot of new things about his past (as well as about some past abuse) and it really helps to round out both of these men. We can see that they are struggling. That Jack and Ethan love one another is clear, but whether either of them can make a relationship work is not. Neither man has the experience to fall back on and so we see them trying to navigate their way together. While the guys don’t spend as much time together on page as in the first book, I really could feel the intensity of their connection and how they are just so right for one another, despite their differences. Hayward has created such layered characters here, and this story delves even deeper into each of these men and I found the fascinating. But the best part is really their love story and I found myself all swoony at the end.
So this was another huge hit for me and I can’t recommend this series highly enough. If you like romantic suspense, you must be reading this series, trust me. Hayward is just masterful and these characters are so fascinating, this series is not to be missed.
P.S. Hayward has written a free coda to book 1 (which you can get on Smashwords), as well as three shorter stories that take place in between books 1 and 2 (Bargaining with the Devil, When the Devil Drives, and Devil in the Details). I haven’t had a chance to read of these but the coda (which is a super sexy story that immediately follows the first book), and I was able to join in here just fine. So they are not required reading, but I am eager to check them out for more of Ethan and Jack.