Rating: 4.25 stars
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Amateur sleuth Hiero Bash has lived a thousand lives and worn a mask for most of them. His survival and that of those he calls family has depended upon it. But with Scotland Yard Inspector Tim “Kip” Stoker, Hiero can remove his mask and be himself. Since nearly losing Tim during their last investigation, Hiero and Tim have spent a summer recuperating and growing closer. And then murder disrupts their quiet happiness. A specter from Hiero’s past is wrecking havoc through The Gaiety Theatre, where Hiero’s alter ego, Horace Beastly, used to trod the boards. Confronting the violent theater ghost means upending secrets that Hiero thought were long dead and buried.
Tim trusts Hiero absolutely, but he knows his lover his hiding things from him — things that might be related to the theater ghost’s campaign of terror. He’s scared that so many secrets will get Hiero hurt or worse. But with their enemy growing bolder, Tim and Hiero must risk everything to save themselves and the ones they love.
The Death Under the Dark Arches is the third in the Stoker and Bash series and to really enjoy these books, they must be read in order. This particular entry loses a step when compared to the previous book, The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, but as with the entire series, it’s the relationship between Kip and Hiero that serves as the real treasure.
In The Death Under the Dark Arches, we find Tim and Hiero settled into their romance, finally comfortable with one another and utterly besotted. Their love is engaging and passionate and they’ve become one of my favorite couples. They seem to share a connection that might read as somewhat silly to some, but that I adore. They just work and there’s no other way to describe it and their devotion to the adopted family they’ve built is equally sweet.
In this installment, we finally learn more about Hiero’s past and Han’s. Han has been an enigmatic character since the start of the series and aside from being Hiero’s right hand man, we haven’t known much about him. In Han, we find a man who survived in spite of poverty and racism and, as he states more than once, calls no one master. He’s chosen his family along with Hiero and he’s dedicated to keeping them safe, especially Hiero’s ward Callie. I hope we see future developments in that area, but for now, it was enough to learn more about Han who, along with Callie, has been just as critical to the plot lines as Hiero and Tim.
An old foe has returned to haunt The Death Under the Dark Arches and that is pacing. The overall story just didn’t flow as smoothly or faultlessly as it could have. The plot seemed a bit choppy and there were times when it read as overly complicated. There’s also an incident that takes place during the first few pages that is so obviously a ruse it felt completely unnecessary. It seemed as though the author was trying to set it up as a “gotcha” moment, but that was never going to work.
The Death Under the Dark Arches wasn’t quite as strong as its predecessors, but the romance between Tim and Hiero still steals the show. Their bond is a powerful one and I love their interactions. And with Han and Callie finally getting a chance to shine, this book does a great job of allowing readers to really connect with all of the characters. And given how the story ends, there is plenty of sinister foreshadowing for the next book. So I’m going to be anxious awaiting that installment!