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Length: Novel

Today, Jay and Michelle are doing a Buddy Review of The Murder Between Us by Tal Bauer. After the overview of the book, check out both their reviews below.

What happens in Vegas… at least that is what FBI Agent Noah Downing is hoping. Four years off a divorce, Noah wants to finally confirm his sexuality by getting together with a man while he is away at a work conference. He knows he can’t be out at home, but this time in Vegas could be his perfect opportunity. After working up his nerve, Noah heads down to a bar and is surprised to gain the interest of an attractive man. Cole is friendly and warm and the men hit it off right away. They spend the evening talking and listening to jazz music… and the night burning up the sheets, confirming for Noah that he is well and truly interested in men.

Noah had hoped to spend more time with Cole before returning home to Des Moines, but when he gets an emergency call from his office, he has to go back immediately. It turns out that a serial killer they had been tracking six years ago has resurfaced. The killer was responsible for a series of grisly murders of young college women, and then just disappeared. But now he is back, with a murder that hits close to home.

FBI profiler Cole Kennedy found an amazing connection with Noah and had begun to wonder if they could turn it into more. While Cole lives in DC, he travels around the country as a profiler and perhaps he and Noah could continue what they started in Vegas. But when Noah disappears without a word, Cole assumes the man is no longer interested. However, when Cole is called to Des Moines to consult on a serial killer case, he is shocked to see Noah as one of the agents on the investigation.

Things are awkward between the men at first. Cole is still angry that Noah ghosted him after their wonderful night, not even sending a text to let him know he had to leave town. And Noah is terrified of anyone finding out he is gay and pretty sure that Cole isn’t interested in anything more anyway. But the connection the men forged is strong, and even as they dig into the case, they can’t help the attraction still simmering between them. However, the killer is still out there and clues are minimal. He is organized and clever and seems to be leaving no trace. As the situation escalates, Cole and Noah must unravel the mystery of the killer’s identity before it is too late.


Jay’s Review
Rating: 4 stars

I am a huge fan of Tal Bauer’s writing, so I was eager to check out his latest mystery. For me, one of the hallmarks of Bauer’s books is the way he is able to dig deeply into a topic, immersing the reader without overwhelming. I found that the case here as well, as we follow along with Cole and Noah as they investigate the serial killer. I enjoyed the way the story highlights how the police and FBI take the minimal evidence and analyze it to find their clues. The killer is smart and leaves little trace, so they have to move into profiling and other techniques to help figure out his identity. This balances nicely with the more intense crime scenes, as well as the emotional connection that the investigators have to many of the victims. A major breakthrough does happen earlier than I would have expected, leaving the investigators to focus more on how the killer managed the murders than figuring out who the killer actually is. I also found the ending quite predictable, which was a little disappointing. But I did really enjoy following along with the case and found Cole’s profiling, in particular, to be really interesting.

The relationship between these men starts out intense from the moment they meet. The book opens with Noah working up his nerve to go out looking for a man and he meets Cole in a bar. The pair have instant and intense chemistry and Bauer builds the emotion and heat throughout their evening together. As they move to the jazz club, Bauer expertly parallels the sensuality of the music and the sensory experience of the small, intimate club with the attraction blooming between the men. It builds throughout the night and results in an explosion as Cole and Noah finally get together. Their night together also gives Noah a chance to affirm his feelings for men and there is a lovely sense of wonder and happiness as he gets that validation.

Noah’s abrupt departure throws a wrench in things for both men, and they find a rocky start when they encounter each other once again in Des Moines. Both men are keeping each other at a distance, Cole for his anger and frustration at Noah leaving without a word, and Noah because he is scared of exposure, as well as self conscious that he may be making more out of their one night together than he should. But Bauer still makes their chemistry clear and the men ultimately find their way back together again.

I really loved this pair and enjoyed the way they combine both a sweet tenderness, as well as explosive heat. I do find things move awfully fast here, however. The bulk of the story takes place in a week, and the men are making major emotional commitments by that point. It is especially fast when considering they spend almost all of that week with awkward interaction, and things only smooth over toward the end. There is also a conflict that comes relating to [very minor spoiler here, but tagging just in case]

Noah’s teen daughter, as he has custody and worries about the fallout if he comes out. At one point, Noah is anxious about involving Cole too much in his life given how it may impact Katie and the implication seems to be he is putting up unnecessary roadblocks and getting cold feet about their relationship. But to me, it seems more than reasonable that you would not present a week-old (days old?) relationship to your teen daughter as a long-term commitment, particularly when it is the first person you have dated since a divorce and the very first man ever.
So things did feel too fast when I thought about the timeline. That said, I still adored these men together and Bauer creates some wonderful chemistry and sensuality.

Overall, I found this one an enjoyable mystery with some great characters. The investigation itself focuses more on the analysis side than the men out there following clues, but I think Bauer manages to bring in the emotion and intensity through the crime scenes and connections to the victims. And I just loved Cole and Noah together and found them a great match.

Michelle’s Review
Rating: 4 stars

Some time has passed since there has been a new Tal Bauer novel and he’s an author I will agree to read even barely knowing what the book will be about. I liked this book from the start as Noah is in Vegas for a conference. He’s been questioning himself for a long time and being in the FBI and living in Iowa, he feels there is no room for his interest in men. He spends a night with Cole that is something out of his fantasies and the men have all the chemistry, but before they can spend a second night together, Noah is called back home for a case, leaving Cole to believe he has been ghosted.

As set ups go, Cole is the expert profiler called out to the case that Noah is working on and the reunion completely throws Noah off course. This book is heavy on the murder mystery, with the relationship between the men woven into it. It’s interesting seeing Cole work as a profiler and seeing the men work together to try and solve the gruesome murders that are escalating. Overall, I would have liked more time with Cole and Noah. The details of the crimes are substantial and we learn the names and details of both the victims and the suspects and, for this type of format, it went on a little too long and a little too much for my tastes. Noah has a lot of family drama that needs to be worked through as well, and trying to add a new relationship mixed into them working the case and being afraid to come out was a lot for this one book to take on.

There is a lot of build up to the case and a lot of buildup to Noah coming out and, at the end, both storylines were rushed for me. Also, Noah and Cole are FBI agents with many years of experience and dealing with the caliber of crimes that they investigate and what they need to properly handle their jobs, I would not have expected them to be quite as vulnerable as they were portrayed.

I really liked the opening scenes as Noah and Cole first met and the times we get to see them work on building a relationship between them, and while I would have preferred a better balance between them, their jobs, and their family for the story this book was telling, it was great to be immersed in a Tal Bauer book once again.

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