After the third world war, America is a shell of what it once was. Sin lives in a walled city where the cops are just barely keeping control and where the Chromes, a violent criminal organization, are edging ever closer to taking over. After losing the man he loved, Sin left the police force, but he still works for them as a mercenary, stepping in when tough jobs need doing. Sin’s life is quite bleak, living in an equally bleak city where most people are just hanging on and crime is rampant.
One night while at his regular bar, Sin sees a young man in danger, and for reasons he can’t quite understand, Sin steps in to help. Although Sin has hardened his heart to just about everyone, somehow the man gets under his skin and rather than pushing Eastyn away, Sin finds himself not only sleeping with him, but also enjoying his company despite himself. For his part, Eastyn has lived an awful life, one he is desperate to escape. While he may have started out looking to use Sin, it isn’t long before he has real feelings for the man.
But Sin and Eastyn live in a dangerous city, controlled by an even more dangerous man. Sin is determined to help Eastyn, but figuring out how that is possible given the circumstances isn’t easy. And as the Chromes ramp up their attacks in an attempt to bring the city to its knees, things are becoming even more dangerous. But now that Sin and Eastyn have found each other, they are determined not to lose what they have built. Now they must fight for not only Eastyn’s freedom, but to save the entire city as well.
Alice Winters has become a go-to author for me and The Sinner and the Liar illustrates why. She has given us one of her trademark couples, pairing the stoic, grumpy Sin with the more lively, bratty Eastyn and setting them up with a complex and engaging challenge they must overcome. I’ll be honest, I have a total soft spot for a bratty MC and Winters once again gives us a great one with Eastyn. He just loves to push all Sin’s buttons, and while Sin can’t figure out quite why he indulges Eastyn, there is something so fun about watching this gruff, grumpy man who is built like a tank and has everyone else running in fear, allow this small, young guy to boss him around. This book has a darker edge for sure, and this playfulness and the at times downright absurdity of their interactions gives such a nice balance to the story. I loved seeing Sin’s softer side come out when he deals with Eastyn and while part of him can’t quite understand why he can’t let Eastyn go, it is clear he would do anything for the man.
The story really rests on the shoulders of these two characters and Winters does such a wonderful job really richly developing both of them. We can really understand what has brought each man to this point, how they have both struggled, and what makes them so strong. I particularly loved Eastyn’s evolution from a man who is scared and feels like he needs others to protect him, to someone who realizes how strong he really is.
As I said, this is definitely a darker story as we deal with a post-apocalypic world where lawlessness prevails and most people are just barely getting by. There are references to kids being sold into prostitution, people are constantly being killed, and just about everyone lives in fear of the Chromes. While Sin is technically on the right side of the law as a consultant for the police, he also does an awful lot of killing. Sometimes it is directly to protect someone or save his own life, but other times it is a means to an end. So he is somewhat of an antihero here and you need to be comfortable with your MC not always walking totally on the right side of the law, though it is always clear the guys Sin hurts are all deserving.
The place where this book lacked a little bit for me was in the world building. The setting is after the third world war and we know that America has changed, but we are given virtually no information as to how. Sin and Eastyn live in a walled city that is isolated from other cities, but whether they are unique in their lawlessness is never clear. We know that there are still other countries and other cities, but nothing about the world outside the city is every really explained. Really the only thing that makes this book feel other than contemporary is the rise of Chromes and a crime lord taking over, while the police mostly struggle to hang on, and to be honest, there are probably places in real life not much different than this. So I think this was somewhat of a missed opportunity to actually incorporate the post-apocalyptic concept into the story, rather than just using it as a bare framework.
Despite that, I really enjoyed this story and found Sin and Eastyn fascinating characters that really bring the book to life. They fight a difficult battle (one I am being deliberately vague about), and it is suspenseful and exciting. But the real star here is watching these two men interact and seeing their grow both individually and with each other over the course of the book. So this is another great story by Alice Winters and one I can definitely recommend.
P.S. I just learned this is the first book of a planned series, so yay! I can’t wait for more!