Serial killers. The idea alone both fascinates and horrifies; men and women who kill again and again in horrible, vile, and violent ways without being caught. But today’s government has a plan to handle the untold killers roaming the world: raise up and train their own monsters and set them loose. Called Handlers, these men and women are psychopaths given training and resources and legal procedures to go through. And, at the end, when they have enough proof, when the Witness assigned to them fills out the right paperwork, the Handlers are allowed to kill the killers however they choose.
Gray is the best. The cruelest, the cleverest, and most calculating monster. In his particular circle, he’s the most famous. He’s also in need of a new handler. Enter Nathan. He’s avoided being out in the field for as long as he can, but he’s being assigned to Gray. It’s either take hold of Gray’s leash or leave the program — and his brother, a young monster in training — behind. With no choice, Nathan accepts the job, but soon finds out that there are two ends to the leash … and he’s no longer certain which of them has the collar.
Nathan is a bright eyed, bushy tailed man who has a Plan for his life. A plan that includes making the Witness and Handler system kinder and gentler for his brother, Indigo, who has been certified as a psychopath and taken into the program for training. Nathan loves his brother with a patience and forgiveness, even knowing that his brother isn’t quite able to feel the same for him. It doesn’t mean Indi can’t care for him. It’s just … not in the same way. Not that that matters, though, because he’s Nathan’s brother, and that’s a bond that he will make sure Indi understands.
Nathan’s approach to Gray is much the same as it is for his brother (minus the surge of instant lust he feels when Gray gives him his murder look.) Nathan’s approach is thoughtful, trying to find out where the borders and lines of Gray’s emotional and physical territory are. He asks questions, he listens to answers, and even while he might flirt and tease, he never goes past them. Nathan keeps his physical motions slow and obvious and always allows Gray to make the first move, always letting Gray know he’s in charge of saying yes or no.
Gray is a psychopath. As a child, he went through a traumatic event, but even then he wasn’t quite … normal, and knew it. He is able to watch people die and feel nothing for them. He can rationalize situations, but he’s always acting more from instinct than empathy, just as willing to let Nathan die as he is the homeless man on the street. For all that Nathan is his — his property, his toy, his entertainment — Gray doesn’t love him. And never will. It doesn’t mean he can’t care for him in his own way.
Gray is also the first character I’ve read that I honestly believed could be a sadist and masochist. He revels in pain. It gives him that wonderful burst of endorphin and serotonin, giving and receiving and witnessing others being hurt and humiliated. There’s joy when he hurts others, there’s delight when he himself is hurt. No rage or feelings of helplessness … and the fact that he is more than willing to cause himself physical pain just so he can kill someone? Gray is honestly a monster. A very believable one.
Nathan, too, has his kinks, all unknown to him. Nathan is a masochist who also thrives on humiliation, and his growing realization of this at Gray’s hands is very well written. The first sex scene is indelicate and brutal and graphic — with some subtle shadings of dubious consent and a dead body in the background. However, the second scene feels kind of … off. It’s not badly written, but I expected the other sex scenes to have the same bite and visceral reaction as the first one and it just didn’t. That may just be me, though, as I don’t often read dark romances and may just have had different expectations.
This is a dark romance, heavy on the dark. As such, it might not be to everyone’s taste. However, the story is honestly thought provoking and and the author has clearly put a great deal of work into the world building, raising up questions only to follow them with a why, what, and how to explain the nuts and bolts of the Witness and Handler relationship. This is the first book of a trilogy and, as such, there are breadcrumbs thrown around here to lead to future books and I’m honestly hoping to be able to grab the next two in the series.
The writing is okay, but there are quite a few issues, aside from grammatical ones (such as using commas instead of periods forming fractured and disjointed sentences), with the wrong word here and there leading to confusing sentences — her instead of here, driver instead of desire, head’s instead of heads. They were small things, but they did distract me during reading. The pacing is good, and as I said above, the world building and characterization of Gray and Nathan are just top notch.