Alex White has worked hard to become a curator and he’s lucky his first job happens to be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. There are few places more prestigious and Alex is ready to jump feet first into curation. Making the job even more rewarding is his friendship with fellow curator, Zander Browne. The two are given the task of researching a strange silver bowl whose historical providence makes no sense.
As they begin to unwind a complex mystery, Alex and Zander discover familial secrets, a curse, and tragedy, all of which seem to be connected. They also find their friendship has developed into something more. But before they can explore the possibility of their future, they must reckon with the past.
Cliffhanger was something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a solid mystery with lots of historical scaffolding, but the characters are pretty boring and there are some bizarre choices when it comes to character development.
I looked up the author’s background once I read the book and he’s a museum professional, which is clearly demonstrated in Cliffhanger. There’s an attention to detail that really comes through with regards to museum work and the process of curating. It never felt too complex though and this aspect of the book is very well done and quite engaging.
So Alex and Zander are cousins. Now they’re fifth cousins, so there’s quite a bit of distance there, but they fact they are romantically and physically involved kinda squicked me out. This may not bother other readers, but for whatever reason, it left me feeling awkward. Neither character felt particularly believable. They have backstories and at least some measure of depth, but I couldn’t connect with either of them. They just didn’t read as real or dimensional and I’m not actually sure why. It was something I kept thinking about throughout the book and, while there isn’t anything wrong with Alex or Zander, I just couldn’t connect to them. Other readers may have a different experience, but they just didn’t work for me.
The book had some pacing issues and more than once the story seemed to get lost in the weeds. It wasn’t terrible, but I think some sections could have been tightened up or even removed without sacrificing the overall story. My biggest issue with Cliffhanger may be mine and mine alone and, as a result, I didn’t factor it into my rating. Given the events of summer 2020, I am sensitive to issue of race and while I acknowledge that, I still felt Cliffhanger treated race in too cavalier a manner. There were jokes about it and dismissive bantering between the characters, one of whom is white and one of whom is a person of color. Perhaps the author was trying to demonstrate that his characters were anti-racist and that color didn’t matter to them. But every time a joke was made, I found it jarring and even unsettling. Others may read Cliffhanger and not find any issue, but I felt like it was worth pointing out.
Cliffhanger is one of those perfectly okay books. It has some positives and some negatives and ends up of something as a wash. I think if you’re interested in history or like mysteries, then you’ll probably find something to enjoy here.