Today Jay and Michelle are joining forces for a Buddy Review of A Friend in the Dark by Gregory Ashe and C.S. Poe. We are fans of both authors and so this seemed like a great choice for part of Self Published Book Week in our Reading Challenge Month. After the book overview, check out our chat about the book!
Rufus O’Callaghan is a confidential informant for the New York City Police. He lives on the fringes of society, barely managing to survive. Rufus really has no one in his life other than his police handler, Jake, who is the closest thing Rufus has to a friend. So when Rufus shows up for a meeting with Jake about a mysterious pick up, only to find the man murdered in cold blood, Rufus can’t stop himself from finding out who is behind it. The fact that Jake’s killer takes a shot at Rufus as well just adds fuel to his determination.
Sam Auden is a drifter and a former Army friend (and fuck buddy) of Jake’s. When he learns about Jake’s apparent suicide, Sam knows something is wrong and he heads to NYC to find out more about what happened. Sam is not a people guy; he can barely handle being touched and the city is giving him sensory overload. But when he crosses paths with Rufus, Sam realizes that he doesn’t know enough about the city or Jake’s life to go it alone. So the men decide to team up and figure out who killed Jake and why.
As the guys dig further into the murder, the case goes down a dark road. They witness another murder and soon find themselves in the killer’s sights. And when they learn just what Jake stumbled upon that he shouldn’t have seen, it is bone chilling. Now, as the danger mounts, Sam and Rufus must use all their skills to figure out who is behind the murders and what they are covering up before they find themselves the next victims.
Jay: OK, so let’s go… I am so excited to do this Buddy Review with you since I know we are both such big fans of Gregory Ashe, and I really enjoy C.S. Poe as well. I was really curious about this one because the authors have such different styles and I was wondering how they would fit together, but I felt like it was a really seamless blend of both their writing styles. It never felt choppy to me or like a mesh of two different authors. What do you think?
Michelle: I’m much more familiar with Ashe. At this point, I’m close to having read everything he’s written. I’m less familiar with Poe, having read only two contemporaries. I thought their styles blended in some places, but there were definite signs for me in others of who wrote what.
Jay: Interesting, I guess I didn’t pick up anything. I thought the story tone fit nicely in the middle of Poe’s and Ashe’s styles.
Michelle: Certain phrases just stuck out to me as definitely Ashe’s style and others I knew weren’t. But that’s to be expected with two authors.
Jay: Ok, so one of the things that really struck me here is that these are two what I could consider “disenfranchised” heroes. Both Sam and Rufus are sort of living on the fringes of society. Rufus is a petty thief/confidential informant who is barely surviving, and Sam is sort of a drifter. I thought that was unusual and made for some really interesting characters.
Michelle: Definitely. I liked getting to know both of them. I probably read more characters like these guys than you do though, and I’m always interested in characters living more on the edges.
Jay: Yep, agreed. Especially with both of them in that position. I also thought it was a nice balance that Sam is on the surface the more capable guy, being a veteran, big and strong, having more money, etc. But he is really at a loss with how to start investigating without Rufus’ knowledge about Jake and the city. So it gave a nice balance to their dynamic. And while Sam may be the physically tougher one, Rufus is strong (and strong willed) in his own right.
Michelle: They had a great balance. At first glance, you might think Rufus is going time be the more timid character, but they both had highs and lows all throughout the book. Both Rufus and Sam are carrying around a truckload of baggage. And I liked that even though it’s a mystery book, the character development started out strong.
Jay: Yes for sure. I’ll note here for readers that this is the first book in a series and so things are just getting started here. The mystery of Jake’s murder has a clear ending, but the character development and relationship storyline are still ongoing (to say the least — that ending!).
Which brings me to one issue where I struggled somewhat and that is that I felt there were some character elements that weren’t well explained. I am not sure if this is something planned for future books, or what, but I struggled a little with that because I had questions. Like how are each of these guys supporting themselves? We know Rufus is a CI, but as broke as he clearly is (he goes to a diner and only orders coffee with cream and eats sugar packets for calories), I wondered how is even affording to live? Does he own that apartment? Does being a CI pay that much? And what about Sam? We learn nothing about what he does outside of being a vet and a drifter. Where is he getting his money? What does he normally do all day?
There is also this subtle thread about each of these men in terms of them being unusually clever and able to retain information and remember things. We see Sam being able to mentally replay an entire baseball game in his head. I assumed he had a photographic memory of sorts, but he just does these things and it is never really addressed by the characters or the story. For Rufus, he also seems unusually able to retain tiny facts from his reading and to put pieces together. In his case, it seemed less of a special ability than Sam, but again, it seemed odd to me that it is never addressed.
Michelle: For as strong as the characters started, I also felt there was more that could have been explored or more that I wanted to be explored. I wondered what happened to Rufus’ mother and I wondered the same thing you did about living expenses and what Sam has been doing for work for all these years. They are both so stuck. Rufus physically, because he’s still living in the same apartment that carries so many bad memories and he never got to move on and grow out of it. He’s still there. And while Sam was less defined, he has had a lot to deal with as well. And like you said, there are little things about their personalities that we get glimpses of that aren’t fully realized.
Jay: Yep, agreed on all counts. I had the same thought about Rufus’ mother, as well as about an issue that comes up at the end. So I assume some of those bigger issues will be a part of the ongoing series storyline, but I felt like there were some basic things that needed more explanation here in this book.
I did find the guys an interesting couple. Sam has an aversion to being touched and clearly has some problems with human interaction, and so I liked seeing how he slowly softens with his time with Rufus. By the end, we can really see how much he cares about Rufus. And for his part, Rufus is so lonely. He is almost the opposite — starved for interaction and attention. So I enjoyed seeing their connection develop.
Michelle: Watching them interact with each other and watching them slowly try and figure each other out was a definite highlight for me. They also started figuring themselves out in different ways. But Ashe (at least) is known for the slow burn and putting up all kinds of roadblocks for his characters.
Jay: Yep, I wasn’t expecting things to be easy for these guys!
Michelle: I also liked the beginning as they were trying to figure out how to start investigating and watching them as strangers with their different personalities just jump into trying to solve a murder.
Jay: Yes, totally. These are strangers, as well as two totally different men, and they had to figure out how to work together.
Ok, so how about the mystery? I found it engaging and exciting. It was really fun to follow these guys around the city as they followed the clues, especially as both men are comfortable working outside the law when needed. I think the authors really gave us a great view of NYC as well and the city is a great backdrop for the mystery. I think things get super exciting, especially toward th end.
Michelle: I’m familiar with all of the areas in the city they went to and there was a great sense of atmosphere. I was really interested in what was going on as they started tracking Jake’s last moves. I was a little more intrigued with the lead up to the mystery than the reveal of what was going on.
[Note: The reveal may be a trigger for some, so I am putting it here behind spoiler tags, so don’t read unless you want aspects of the mystery revealed.]
Jay: Yes, agreed. I found that really cool how they are able to piece it all together. I think the authors did do a good job making me invested in Jake as a character as we see how much he means to both Sam and Rufus. And the reveal of what is going on (why Jake was killed) had a nice intensity. But I do agree that the who is behind it all and why fell a little more flat.
There is something that is revealed toward the end in terms of the mystery that seemed obvious to me from way early on. So much so that I actually assumed it was a red herring. So in terms of your comment that the resolution to the mystery was less satisfying, I think that is partly why for me. Like it seemed so clear what was going to happen with regard to this one element.
[Note: Here Michelle and I both chat about how we knew what was going on with this element of the mystery from early on, but I cut that part of the conversation to avoid spoilers.]
Michelle: The why of the mystery is something that is seen often in the genre — well, maybe more in the books I read than you — and it’s a huge topic that I thought was brushed aside too much. It wasn’t developed at all. And the “bad guys” seemed too disorganized to me to pull this off and then they seemed to go down too easily.
Jay: Yes, agreed. I would have been curious about how Jake found out what was going on. We know he has all this evidence (that the guys are trying to track down in order to figure out what happened to him), but not how he found out about the crime in the first place.
Michelle: I will say that I do like the harder hitting mysteries and didn’t feel that the mystery aspect was developed enough for my tastes.
Jay: Yes, I can see that.
Anything else you want to mention?
Michelle: The ending explodes in all the ways. On the mystery end and on the personal end. Although I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel the mystery was fully done and solved. But I do like the personal drama at the end and I do like the anticipation of waiting to see what happens next for their relationship.
Jay: You love the drama, lol! And yes, it was a crazy ending. I wanted to yell at someone (it was SO hard for me not to message you about it before you finished reading!). But yeah, I have read enough Gregory Ashe that I was not surprised.
Michelle: Not surprised at all! All the drama so much fun.
Jay: Ok, ratings? I am going to go with 4.5 stars. I was totally sucked in by the interesting characters, the great sense of place, and following along with their investigation. I had some issues with the character backgrounds/development and the details of the larger mystery, but overall, I really liked this one.
Michelle: 4 stars for me. Interesting characters, but I would have liked more from the larger story.
Jay: Got it. Ok, I am really excited for the next in the series. Thanks for chatting with me today!
Michelle: I do want to see what will happen in the next scene after this ending, so I’m looking forward to more from Rufus and Sam too.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Self Published Book Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of ten HUGE prize bundles donated by some fabulous self published authors (you can see the full prize list here)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Self Published Book Week here.