When the Chief of Police phones officer Jack Ballinger at two in the morning, Jack knows the news can’t be good. A college student has been found murdered and despite mounting clues, Jack feels like he is no closer to an answer. He tries to work with his former partner, Cory Ryan, but the man is unreliable. When a second body is found in as many days and in the very same building as the college student, Jack has to pound the pavement to get answers. But things take a complicated twist when his manipulative ex-boyfriend starts showing up again, metaphoric guns blazing. On top of this, Jack is trying to figure out how he feels about a recent hook-up with potential. Despite the tumult in his personal life, Jack is able to piece a few crucial elements of the puzzle together and soon, he’s hot on the trail of the killer. As long as he plays his cards right, Jack has a chance of holding the guilty to account.
As far as I can tell, there are two main threads shooting through this story. The first is the thriller, who-done-it one; the other is the romance thread regarding Jack and his love interest named Steve. I didn’t find either thread to be particularly compelling. Thinking back on the thriller aspects, I enjoyed having a few initial undecipherable clues. For example, the college girl was found holding a rosary that turned out to be glued into her hand. This detail is remarked upon by the characters and is the reason why Jack and the Chief have a little exchange as they survey the murder scene. Ultimately, however, this seemed like a throwaway detail. In fact, many of the other suspicious things that crop up on page seemed like nothing more than red herrings. It’s one thing to have a shocking ending that completely blindsides you, but in retrospect you feel like a fool for not having noticed it earlier. It’s quite another to be blindsided by a surprise ending that, even in retrospect, feels non sequitur. The big reveal in this book was firmly in that second category for me. Even as Jack goes about understanding the crucial clues that lead him to the correct conclusion concerning the murders, I, as a reader, was wholly unprepared for the “big reveal.”
As for the romance, well, this story left a lot to be desired. The ex-boyfriend crops up and just comes across as a new and menacing fixture in Jack’s life. The exchanges these two have on page left me confused as to their personalities. Jack reveals that his ex was manipulative, but the ex states that Jack was the controlling one in the relationship. Personally, I thought Jack’s self-centeredness actually came shining through in his approach to his new love interest, Steve. Steve was a guy Jack picked up at a bar, took home, sexed up, and—during the opening scenes of the story—seemed like a guy Jack had no intention of ever seeing again. Yet as the story progresses, Jack seems to become increasingly needy for Steve. Never mind his initial rejection of Steve, it’s as if Jack is coming from a place of instalove. I was just turned off by Jack’s apparent immaturity vis-a-vis his feelings. Jack’s the one who pushed Steve away and then Jack realizes that maybe he does want more than one night with Steve. But when Steve doesn’t seem to view things as seriously between them, Jack states he is, and I quote, “floored.” To me, Jack has no legs to stand on, no reason to be “floored,” because he was the one to give Steve the cold shoulder after a night of sex.
As a sort of plus, I did enjoy the setting of the story. The mood for the initial chapters really captured my attention, reminding me of a certain 90s noir-ish hollywood film. My first impression of Jack was as a jumpy, nervous LEO, was enticing to me. It was disappointing to watch him develop/devolve into a professionally aloof, personally stunted character. The good will regarding the world Bruso creates is tarnished by several continuity errors and narration hurdles. The weather, for example, varies wildly from page to page, despite the action unfolding over only a few minutes. Weather isn’t something I really notice, but in this case, it’s “foggy and drizzly” one moment, then “driving” rain the next. Another scene starts off seemingly in the afternoon time frame, and later the scenery is described as having the “dazzling sunshine” of a “day awakening” streaming through someone’s yard. There are also continuity errors that stuck out like sore thumbs.
Disregarding how jarring the ending felt after the long wind up of murder-thriller details, the action feels well paced. Despite the shortcomings in the writing and the characters, I didn’t feel like the story was necessarily boring. However, I found very little “payoff” or “aha!” at the big reveal. The main “romance” between Jack and Steve felt unsatisfying and, if I’m being blunt, more unilateral interest on Jack’s part. There’s also the problematic ex-boyfriend who seems like a prime suspect in the murder, though is never really treated as such by any LEOs. There’s also Jack’s work partner, someone who felt like he should have had a bigger/clearer role, but just served to muddy the waters for me.