Jax is many things to many people. To some, he’s a two-bit thug able to disable security alarms; to others, he’s a co-conspirator in a quest to steal priceless items. He’s an art thief, a liar, a trickster, and a fraud. Jax’s also… not quite human. He has the ability to change his appearance to suit his needs, to grow taller or smaller, fatter or thinner, red haired or blonde, and to change his fingerprints and retinal scan as easily as some people change clothes. Who he is beneath all the false identities is someone no one knows.
In his real life, Jax restores antique and rare books. It’s his passion as well as his hobby, and he’s good enough at it to make a modest living even above the stolen goods he takes from unworthy, would-be thieves and sells to fences for a substantial profit. Donovan, a book collector fascinated by atlases, calls upon Jax to restore damaged pages of his newest acquisition and, while working at the man’s house, the two of them grow close enough that Jax considers them almost friends.
It’s Noel, though, Donovan’s assistant, the young man with wary eyes who looks at Jax like he can see through him, who catches Jax’s own fascination. Something about Noel keeps drawing his attention, and Jax … Jax is used to getting what, and who he wants. Before he can truly make headway with the other man, an old ‘friend’ intrudes in Jax’s life, risking the safety of those Jax has come to care about, and maybe destroying any chance of what might have been for he and Noel.
Jax isn’t quite Robin Hood. For one, he doesn’t return stolen items to their owners; he sells them and keeps the money for himself, minus a portion he donates to various animal shelters. Having lived a very, very long life — Jax was born in the 1700s — he’s gotten quite tired of humans, but dogs, now, dogs he still loves. Their loyalty, their honesty, the way they don’t turn on one another for a bit of money, that appeals to him. In all of his double-crosses with the criminals he works with, Jax tries not to kill anyone. He’ll leave his victims unconscious, or make certain they’re in a position to be easily caught, but he’s not interested in death or torture.
Noel doesn’t trust Jax, and he doesn’t bother to hide it. He works, for the moment, as Donovan’s assistant, helping run the man’s rescue organization where they try to train and rehome unwanted animals, but he also knows enough about the books Donovan has in the house to be suspicious of the man brought in to take care of them. What if Jax is casing the joint, waiting for the right moment to steal some of the rare and expensive books and sell them to the highest bidder? Until he knows the truth, Noel is determined to keep an eye on Jax.
When Jax does manage to confront Noel, to get the younger man to tell him why he doesn’t trust him, Jax isn’t offended. Just because he’s not interested in robbing Donvan doesn‘t mean he hasn’t robbed people in the past, but he wouldn’t do that to the man he’s beginning to consider a friend. Instead, he tells Noel a secret he’s been — well, not exactly hiding; he tells Noel he’s gay, giving the man a false trail to run along so he doesn’t suspect anything near the truth. And that frank talk starts the two men down a road that isn’t quite flirting, but does end up with the two of them making out.
For such a brief novella, this book had some strange pacing issues, for me. The action scenes with Jax and various criminals seemed to take up a good two thirds of the book, and as fast paced as they were, they made the scenes back in Donovan’s home feel slower by comparison. Jax went from dinner with Donovan one night to suddenly thinking the man might be a friend with almost no beat in between. All of the relations between Jax and Noel were rushed and it felt like there was a great deal more telling than showing between the men.
Friendship and love were words that were tossed out, but they didn’t feel earned, and the explanation regarding the villain hunting down Jax was glossed over in conversation and the climactic scene was finished in a paragraph. The world building only showed up at the end with the explanation of Jax’s skills, and it seemed that Jax spent more time talking to Noel’s sister about his relationship with Noel than Noel himself. The villain felt like a throwaway whose sole purpose was to reveal Jax’s powers rather than an actual part of the story, and it just, overall, didn’t work for me at all.
There are interesting moments, here and there, but they seem to show up in strange places, leaving me unbalanced while reading the story. There is no build up to certain revelations, no foreshadowing to hint at anything, and some of the reveals at the end left me feeling like I was reading the third or forth installment in a serial rather than a standalone book. Personally, the story fell flat for me. I enjoyed bits of the heist plot, but was bored by most of what happened in Donovan’s house and I just wasn’t able to connect to the characters.