Niall Hamarsson proposed to his boyfriend, Mat Dempsey, several months ago; however, neither one of them has made much progress in planning their nuptials. For one thing, Niall has been trying to get re-settled on Piedras Island and carving out a place for himself at West Coast Forensics, a private investigation company for whom he works. For another, Mat Dempsey is the Sheriff of Piedras Island and has spent years sacrificing his own private time to cover an under-staffed and under-funded law enforcement operation. But when Niall’s boss calls him out for a case in Idaho and Mat finds (another) dead body in a Piedras harbor, both of them feel more than a small twinge of regret that they did not elope. Not to mention Mat’s mother not-so-subtly trying to insert herself into the planning process.
Of course, when Mat discovers the body of Duane Cooper, the man suspected of planting a bomb in Mat’s cruiser several months ago, both Mat and Niall are immediately on high alert. It means that Cooper had likely not been working alone, but with at least one other accomplice when Mat’s car had been rigged to blow. That puts Mat and his team in danger. Unfortunately, there are very few leads for Mat to follow. In the meantime, his office also uncovers what initially seems like a case of sexual assault, but quickly takes shape as a trafficking situation. The caveat is that the victim seems to be an undocumented immigrant smuggled from Canada and the local customs and immigration office is under the juriscition of the federal goverment. What’s more, when Niall covertly interviews Duane Cooper’s ex-wife, he gets suspicious about her and Duane’s finances; Niall wonders if there could be a connection between the traffickers on the island and Cooper’s death. But there is a storm approaching and even though there is circumstantial evidence of the trafficking/murder suspect being on-island, it’s a race against the clock to capture him before he escapes the island or even the country.
Black Moon is the third installment in the Hamarsson and Dempsey series by Elle Keaton. It takes place in the early fall following Niall and Mat’s summer engagement and picks up immediately with Mat discovering Duane Cooper to be dead. The story is divided into chapters that alternate in third-person from both Mat’s and Niall’s perspective. For a thriller, I think this arrangement works well. It also keeps the action at pretty consistently high levels. Both Niall and Mat engage in dangerous jobs. Niall is just starting to get assignments through the private investigation firm where he works, which has taken him away to Idaho. Mat’s job as sheriff and his unflagging sense of responsibility for everything that happens on the island keep him very busy. There is some discussion about Niall’s good-intentioned “interference” in Mat’s official role as a LEO. Most of the time, though, Niall seems to ignore the legality or lack thereof of interfering as he is more concerned with being personally able to keep Mat safe. As a suspense, I think Keaton does a fine job of continuing threads from the first two books. Niall’s former boyfriend, Trey, for example, crops up to cause anguish to Mat…not just because Mat is jealous of a creeper like Trey, but because Trey insinuates that he has information regarding the death of Mat’s father. Then, of course, there’s the fact that Duane Cooper was assumed to be guilty of trying to kill Mat in book two. To that end, I would say Hamarsson and Dempsey is very much not a story that can be a stand alone.
As far as the action goes, I did like that there is a sense of balance between the physical trauma Niall and Mat experience. Mat survived a car bombing in book two; Niall survives a building collapsing on top of him. The prior incident, however, felt more like it advanced the relationship between Niall and Mat, as well as provided the reader with hurt-comfort scenes between the two. The incident in this book didn’t seem to show any new facets of the romantic relation between the two, but rather just allow the MCs to reaffirm how devastated they would be if one or the other died in the line of duty. That said, of course I ate up the melodrama of Mat anxiously waiting to hear about Niall’s injuries and Niall realizing that he really disliked how fieldwork would mean he could be far away from Mat if/when something major happened on their island home. So yeah, I suppose from a planning perspective, it feels like Niall getting caught in a collapsed building “evens” things out, but seems to offer reaffirmation of things I already knew/expected of their relationship rather than growing it.
As far as the romance goes, there are some steamy scenes and I, for one, enjoy on-page spice. While I cannot fault how Keaton works the physical intimacy into the story, I was a bit surprised at the timing of this intimacy. For one thing, the two scenes occur on consecutive days. The first time around, Mat explains how much he wants Niall by telling him “while I’m sitting in my office chair at work tomorrow all I’ll be able to think about is your dick in my ass.” Hot sex ensues. Fast forward to tomorrow, and Niall comments that he “thanks all the gods that he and Mat had been tested and decided to forego condoms a few months ago.” Hot sex ensues. Mat doesn’t mention anything about his office chair or the like the second day, however. Nor did either of them seem concerned about protection on the first. So, I’m not one to look sexy favors in the mouth, but it did seem like these two scenes sort of happened in a vacuum.
Overall, I’d say this third installment offers what I would consider is the best blend of suspense and romance. I would also like to mention that, in my review of book two, I believe I was critical of the author’s choice to not address more directly or explicitly the car bomber suspect. Now that I have read book three, it’s clear that this subject forms the bulk of the puzzle in this installment. Ultimately, I think this pacing has worked well in hindsight and will probably be a complete non-issue for even pedantic readers (me!) who have access to book three immediately. Again, the drawing out of the bombing suspect works in terms of realism—Piedras Island is not a large place, so it makes sense to me that each book does not necessarily take up a wholly new and unrelated to any prior crimes. In terms of series planning, the crimes being described are more complex than just someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Keaton seems to be building towards a more intertwined set of characters and circumstances.
For anyone who’s read and enjoyed the first two books, I cannot recommend this installment enough. Especially if you, like me, have been waiting to get a more in-depth look at how deeply Mat and Niall care for each other. Fans of thrillers, crime novels, law enforcement stories, and the like will also enjoy following the threads and trying to connect the dots…though I think the series is marked in the way casual readers probably wouldn’t be able to tease out the answers like they might in a cozy thriller.