Rating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

After losing his partner eight years ago, Detective August Shaw has done nothing but immerse himself in work. He barely interacts with co-workers and has few friends; August’s life is consumed by the cold cases he works, determined to get justice for the victims and closure for their families. When August gets a call from a constable in the small town of Tallowwood, he is horrified to discover Jacob Porter’s murder case bears a striking similarity to a serial murder cold case August has been tracking in Sydney for years. The murderer is targeting gay men, each of whom have been found in what appears to be a suicide, with a poem and a silver cross on their bodies. August knows that there is no way his victims aren’t connected, and he is sure that Jacob’s new case is as well, so he heads out to Tallowwood to investigate.

Tallowwood is a small town on the outskirts of the rainforest and murders like this don’t happen often. Jacob is happy to have August’s help on the case, particularly as he has long admired August as a successful, out gay law enforcement officer. As the two delve into the murders, it is clear that their cases are connected. But the men are finding constant roadblocks and they can’t get much traction.

As the men investigate, they get to know one another and a connection forms. For years, August has barely interacted with anyone, yet he finds himself comfortable with Jacob in a way he has been with few others. Jacob both accepts August’s grief, but also helps him find a way to move forward. And Jacob is so joyous, so full of life and happiness, that it can’t help but affect August as well. But even as the men grow closer, the case takes a darker turn. As they begin to uncover the truth about the murders, the men are in more danger. Now they must fight to solve the mystery before one of them becomes the next victim.

I really enjoyed this mystery/suspense story by N.R. Walker. The case is nicely developed and it built well over the course of the book. I was kept guessing until the end and Walker brings things all together with a really exciting climax. What is interesting here is that for much of the book, the story is more about the case, the victims, and the effect it all has on August, than actually on the investigation itself. Walker does a nice job really setting the context here as we see August so focused on these cold cases, determined to bring justice for these long ago victims. The fact that they were all gay like him just adds fuel, but he is so compassionate and committed to his work. I found things start off a little slow as the investigation gets rolling, as there felt like a lot of set up before the men really get to dig into the case. But once things pick up, it is very exciting with enough twists to keep me guessing as to just what was going on.

There were a few stumbles for me in the execution of the mystery plot, however. As the book ends, one of the characters seems to make a really bad choice, putting himself at risk when he seems very well aware of the danger he is in, and then making another error in judgement along the way. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me for someone who was supposed to be so savvy. The bigger issue is that a lot of the story hinges on the fact that August has been shouting into the wind for years about these cases, trying to get others to recognize that this is the work of a serial killer and not just a set of isolated suicides. And while there are some explanations as to why this is the case, the fact that basically no one believes him besides Jacob or connects the dots is just really hard to swallow. I mean 10+ apparent suicides, all gay men, all found with the same poem, and all with a cross, even those men who were of different religions. Two of the victims are strangers found dead right near one another. And yet no one can believe that they are connected? It just seemed way too hard to accept.

What really makes this story for me are Jacob and August. The romance is not the main focus of the book, but it is still really nicely done. I love an opposites attract pairing, particularly the prickly curmudgeon. Although August turns out to have a lot of life left in him, as the story starts, he is a loner who can’t deal with people and spends all his time shut away working. I loved seeing how Jacob’s light helps shine on August and make him begin to enjoy life once again. The characters are both well developed and I could really understand what was motivating each of them. I particularly liked Jacob’s joy at his small town, the sense of community he had, and the loving family that helps support him. I was happy to see the way Jacob’s world grew to include August and bring him joy in life once again.

So I found this one to be a really nice mystery story. The suspense and the investigation side takes a little while to kick into high gear, but it ends up being a satisfying mystery. And I really enjoyed Jacob and August and watching them fall for one another. I enjoyed this one a lot and can definitely recommend it.

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