Special Agent Lincoln Monroe has been teaching new FBI agents at Quantico for the last ten years, but his speciality is forensic genealogy. When the serial killer known as Dr. Fear strikes again, Lincoln is brought in on the case, as he has done extensive research on the killer. Dr. Fear kidnaps couples and uses their worst fears to kill them. His killing sprees come in waves and the FBI has been unable to catch him, or even find many leads. But now, it appears that another agent has found a connection to Dr. Fear in the small university town of Apex, Virginia, so Lincoln is being sent in to help out.
Lincoln is surprised to be matched up with his former student, the cocky and confident Carter Warren. Lincoln definitely was drawn to Carter when they met in class, and it turns out Carter was interested in him as well. Now, not only are the men working together, but they are posing as a married couple to better draw the attention of Dr. Fear as they dig further into the case.
As Lincoln and Carter work together, that old attraction comes flaring back for both men. But time is not on their side and the investigation is paramount in their minds. As they dig into the records and meet prominent members of the small town, Carter and Lincoln begin to learn more about Dr. Fear’s patterns and the leads begin to grow. It seems like they may be starting to figure out Dr. Fear’s motivation, bits about their past, and even some leads on their identity. But even as the men make progress, Dr. Fear seems to be a step ahead. Now Lincoln and Carter must fight with all they have to stop a killer before more people end up dead — including themselves.
Variable Onset is a fabulous suspense that kept me eagerly turning pages as I dug into the exciting story. I have always enjoyed Layla Reyne’s romantic suspense books, but this story really takes things up a notch in terms of the mystery side of things. Here we get into the nitty gritty of the investigation and it is clear Reyne has done her research as the details just pop throughout the case. Carter is an excellent undercover agent who excels at disappearing into his cover and is able to finesse his suspects and witnesses as he digs into the case. Lincoln is an expert at forensic genealogy and is able to pull tiny details seemingly out of nowhere to build leads and find buried connections. Reyne really takes the time to highlight the investigative process here and I was totally engrossed in the story as I followed along with the case. There is a dark, twistiness here as we delve into the mystery and slowly the pieces all come together. This isn’t necessarily a big flashy suspense story (though there are some very exciting and scary moments), it’s more of an old-fashioned investigative thriller as the men piece together the case and slowly discover the secrets behind Dr. Fear. I found it fascinating and really compelling.
I also really loved Carter and Lincoln together. The men have a background in that they used to be student and teacher, and we know from the start that Carter was quite taken with Lincoln. Their lives weren’t in a place to even consider pursuing anything, but there is still something simmering for both men. The fake relationship aspect of the story brings in some interesting dynamics as the men spend time together pretending to be married. Even as they start falling for one another more intensely, there are always questions in their mind about how much of this is for show and what is real. This is a slow burn story and most of the focus is on the case, rather than the romance, but it builds nicely throughout. The guys are honest with one another about how they are feeling, but they are in different places in life (and Lincoln has a teenaged daughter to think about), not to mention that they are racing against time to catch a killer. But there is a lovely dynamic between the men. Carter has a sense of fun and playfulness that brings Lincoln out of his shell and they bring out the best in each other. We see this particularly as Dr. Fear zeros in on the men and they have to give each other strength to handle the pressure.
So I found this a really exciting and well done suspense. The mystery is really engaging and Reyne does a great job giving us a look behind the curtain at this type of investigation. I really enjoyed the slowly simmering romance between Carter and Lincoln and loved the way things all came together. So if you enjoy mystery/suspense, I can definitely recommend Variable Onset.