Chevy is one of the rare humans with a gift. In his case, his special ability enables him to go into the memories of other people. Chevy uses his gift as a police detective, typically for helping victims recall memories of crimes against them. Seneca is Chevy’s police partner and his gift is the ability to mimic the gift of others. This allows Seneca to travel into people’s memories along with Chevy and provide reinforcement to Chevy’s reports about what he learns.
The men have been partners for two years and Seneca has been pursuing Chevy the whole time. Chevy is totally drawn to Seneca, who is charismatic and charming and gorgeous no matter what the situation. But Seneca is also clear that he doesn’t date or do relationships, and as Chevy doesn’t do one-night stands, he fends off Seneca’s advances. That doesn’t stop Chevy from wanting Seneca, however, no matter how much he thinks it’s a bad idea.
One day, Chevy and Seneca are called in on an unusual case. While they normally work to read the memories of crime victims, in this case they are asked to go into the mind of a serial killer. The police have arrested the suspect, but they have reason to believe he is holding more victims somewhere and time is running out to rescue them. They hope that Chevy can read the killer’s memories and learn where the victims are being held. But going into the mind of a monster isn’t easy, and Chevy and Seneca soon find themselves twisted up in a darkness that they didn’t expect. It is clear that the killer is manipulating them, but they also can’t fully break free of his grasp. With more victims piling up, it is a race against time to figure out what is driving the killer and how to stop him. It isn’t easy, but working together and drawing strength from each other, Chevy and Seneca may just be able to stay one step ahead of the killer, and keep themselves and others alive while they do.
Wow, this story totally had me captivated and is one that I can’t stop thinking about, even now that it is over. Within the Mind is sort of a hard book to classify, as it is a thriller, a mystery, a little bit of horror, a shot of romance, and a dose of humor, all rolled into one. First, I’ll say that Alice Winters has created a thrill ride here and this story was hard to put down. It is difficult to explain too much without giving away just what happens to Chevy and Seneca or what is going on in the mind of the killer, so I am going to be a little vague here. But as they delve into his memories, they find that the killer has the upper hand and the men are thrown into his deranged mind in ways that leave them terrified and confused. It is hard to tell what is real, what is a memory, and what is fabrication, and that sense of unreality makes the case even harder to solve. Throw in a serial killer who seems to be able to manipulate people at will, and it is a dangerous struggle to figure out his motive and how to stop him. It is at times creepy and horrifying, and, as we are in Chevy’s POV, we really get to experience all the fear and uncertainty right along with him. Winters really has put together a brilliant thriller here and it is twisty and complex, without being too hard to follow. The story comes together so well and all the pieces fall into place perfectly.
What’s really interesting here is that Winters takes this intense, often times horrifying, thriller plot and overlays it with humor that comes from our main characters. They are full of banter and snark and teasing one another, and so there is a sense of comedy that runs alongside the intensity of the thriller. These guys have an interesting relationship, as it is clear from the start that Chevy has feelings for Seneca despite himself. He keeps trying to convince himself that he dislikes his partner, when really it is obvious how much he cares for him. Chevy just can’t let himself fall for Seneca when he believes Seneca isn’t interested in anything serious. I also liked how these men are much more than they first appear, and show their true selves only to each other. Chevy is not really a people person and he comes across kind of quiet and grumpy. For his part, Seneca is charming and outgoing and somewhat narcissistic. Or at least, that is his outward appearance. Winters does a great job of showing that Seneca has a lot more going on than his at time shallow public face may suggest. But both of these men let go with each other in a way that let’s them be who they truly are with one another.
This relationship is kind of a slow burn. While it is clear both of men care for each other from the start, it takes a while for them to make that move to something more. Even then, the suspense plot takes up most of the focus and we see very little of the actual “romance” or relationship building between them. The physical side of things comes somewhat after they make the emotional side official, which isn’t an issue by itself. But given that these guys had feelings for one another from the start, not much changes between them after they declare their desire to date. I wanted to see a little more of the relationship build once they decided to move forward together. That said, the bond these men have is clear and I loved how the connection they have is what helps them get through the case safely.
I will say that your feelings about Seneca will likely impact a lot of how you feel about the book overall. He is a lot to take at times, as he pushes for what he wants and doesn’t back down easily. While I didn’t always connect with his humor, it is clear that Chevy adores him and finds him charming, as well as a source of comfort throughout the case. So I could overlook the times I found Seneca a little exasperating because clearly it was all working for Chevy. That said, Seneca is very aggressive with his pursuit of Chevy, even when Chevy is trying to keep him at a distance. In any real world scenario, this is a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. It mostly worked here for me because again, we are in Chevy’s head and we know he wants Seneca and finds him amusing and charming. That said, if you are sensitive to this type of issue, Seneca’s behavior before the guys get together may not work for you.
I’ll also throw in a small note that things are not particularly well developed from a world building end. We don’t learn much about gifts or how they evolved. Most of the people we meet that have gifts seem to be there purely to advance the plot (particularly someone who appears with the exact gift needed to solve a problem the guys are facing). I think Winters does give us enough to understand what is happening and why, but I would have liked a little more in the way of world building here.
Overall, I found this such a well done thriller. It is one of those twisty stories that just got me all wrapped up and I was engrossed from the start. Winters does a great job of taking a really complicated plot and walking the reader through it in a way that makes it accessible. I found the story has just the right balance between keeping me guessing and giving me that disorientation that Chevy is feeling, while also allowing me to follow the story. It is exciting and scary and twisty in all kinds of wonderful ways, with a dose of humor thrown in. So if you like darker romantic suspense, I can highly recommend Within the Mind.