Narrator: Kirt Graves and Tor Thom
Length: 5 hours, 24 minutes
Ray was a good cop. Well, maybe not a good cop — with his ties to the mob, his troubled youth of running drugs, and a few other unsavory exploits, he’s no one’s idea of good. But he was a clean cop dammit, and being framed for a crime he didn’t commit has made him both bitter and miserable. Now Ray ekes out a living as a private eye, trailing unfaithful wives and taking pictures for husbands who didn’t really want the truth.
While he was on the force, Ray was the lead detective on what looked like a serial killer’s trail. The guy would lure young men home from a local gay club, Epiphany, screw them and torture them … and then vanish in the wind. But the killer’s back, and he isn’t happy that Ray’s no longer on the case. That should be bad news, and yes, it is, but there’s a silver lining to this storm of blood and death, and that’s Andy. Andy, who came home to see the killer butchering his roommate. Andy who got away. Andy, the beautiful young man who looks to Ray to protect him where the police won’t. Andy, with whom Ray is falling in love.
There’s a bit of violence in this book, which is to be expected in a thriller with a serial killer who tends to leave messages for the cops in the skin of his victims. It’s also the first audiobook I’ve listened to where there are two narrators, one for Ray (and Ray’s chapters) and one for Andy. It took some getting used to, and the changes in narrator can be a bit distracting, especially when they happen in the middle of conversations or sex scenes.
Ray feels very much like a character right out of a Chandler book — think Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe — which is helped by the dark, drawling narration. He’s a thug who became a police officer, and when that was taken from him, found himself wallowing in the black and bitter misanthropy. It isn’t until Andy comes into his life, needing a hero, that Ray finds himself shaking off the dark mood and struggling back into the human race. Ray’s the sort of man who’d cheat at cards, but only if he had to win. Otherwise, he’d be content to drink and play and shoot the shit for as long as there were players in the game.
Andy wears a shell of confidence and charming self-deprecation, but beneath that shell is a sensitive, insecure person who is willing to put himself down with a laugh so other people won’t do it with a sneer. But, for all that, he’s not an idiot and he’s not one to give up. When he realizes the police aren’t doing enough to keep him safe, Andy looks up Ray in the hopes that he can hire the PI to find the killer since the cops are doing a terrible job at it. When the killer breaks into the apartment Andy is staying in (his own is a crime scene), he needs a place to stay and turns to Ray, who is more than willing to keep Andy close.
The two of them have a connection formed by adrenaline and lust; both have been going through a bit of a dry spell and the pressure of having a killer chase after him makes Andy needy. Ray isn’t into boys, but something about Andy’s honesty and sincerity draws him and he isn’t averse to a bit of action. It’s when one night turns into two or three that Ray begins to think there’s something more between them. To hope there is something more.
The plot is nicely twisty and the red herring was convincing enough that I almost bought it. However, the final reveal of the serial killer … no, I didn’t buy it. I didn’t buy the character or his motives. Without giving too much away, the “I’m so crazy” killer who all but wears a clown nose as he capers around doesn’t do it for me. Especially when there’s no build up as to why or how he got to be so unhinged. That’s not to say the rest of the story is bad. It isn’t. But the killer is the weakest part of the book, for me.
The side characters are interesting enough, and I like seeing a cop who isn’t an upstanding pillar of the community. The idea of a mob flunky turned cop appeals to me, and the noir-ish feel to Ray’s story and background were interesting. I enjoyed his chapters and his thought processes very much, and wouldn’t mind more books set in his world. The idea that he’d go to his underworld connections to get the killer and reach out to them for help in protecting Andy felt fresh and kind of funny. However, I do get tired of every single man in power having a boy hidden away on the side. (Okay, so there were only three, but all three were side characters of some importance.)
There were technical issues that picked at me, such as the killer using a drug to subdue the young men he was torturing and beating, but that never showed up in the autopsy. It felt like a last minute insert to fill up a plot hole, and it didn’t quite gel. The lack of police procedure near the end also hurt the book. Why bring in the police at all if there’s not going to be any actual policing? One issue that stood out to me is one that doesn’t normally bother me at all, but in an audio book it’s noticeable and distracting. There needs to be a cleaner line between dialogue and monologue, because when it’s being read, you can’t tell when a character is thinking and when he’s speaking snarky, insulting thoughts at his boss and that’s a bit of a problem.
Neither of the two narrators were very good at voices. However, when Ray’s narrator was reading, he managed to give a very strong feel both to the setting and to Ray’s acerbic wit. When reading this as straight text, the writing comes off a little flat, with a great deal of simplistic, step-by-step writing, but both Thom and Graves do a great deal of heavy lifting to make the story come to life. It can be hard to get used to the flow of two voices, but once you do, you can tell they both really put a great deal of effort into making Ray and Andy come to life. If you’re torn between the two choices of book or audiobook, I do highly recommend the audiobook version.