Eight years ago, Special Agent Jefferson Haines was a student at MIT. Even now, Jefferson looks back on his undergraduate days with the bittersweet fondness of nostalgia. His every memory of college is bursting with Fred “Finny” Ashley, his best friend, his roommate, and, secretly, the unrequited love of his life. Though Jefferson knew Finny was gay, Jefferson never came out at school himself. Partly because Mr. Haines was extremely homophobic and partly because of how poorly their frat brothers treated Finny. That halcyon years-long friendship crashed and burned when Jefferson, drunk and heartsore, said words he has spent the last eight years regretting most bitterly.
Now, Jefferson is an FBI agent in Boston. He and his partner, Caroline, are leading their first big FBI case chasing a notorious serial killer known as the Smiley Face Killer. The case has been open for over a decade and a fresh body has just turned up after a few years of inactivity. Because the victim was found along a popular touristy stretch of public waterfront, one of their first stops is the Department of Parks Management. Initially, Jefferson just wants the DPM’s cooperation on revisiting several of the most recent crime scenes, all of which are along Boston’s Charles River. He never expects to come face to face with Finny, not after years of radio silence. The full depth of all of Jefferson’s feelings for Finny come roaring back and he will do whatever it takes to get back into Finny’s good graces.
Jefferson’s distraction at working with Finny does not get beyond Caroline, either. Her normally calm and collected partner is suddenly tongue tied. Worse, she has Finny on a short list of possible persons of interest. Finny had tumultuous past after college and now has plenty of access to several of the murder scenes associated with the Smiley Face Killer. She’s not nearly as convinced of Finny’s innocence as Jefferson. As she and Jefferson continue their investigations, however, they get dangerously close to the killer.
Nothing But Good is a contemporary novel set in Boston. It features a strong procedural law enforcement storyline as Jefferson and Caroline work on solving their case. Readers who enjoy a well planned and paced crime thriller will definitely enjoy how this story unfolds. The romance is a very slow burn between Jefferson and Finny that’s built around a friends (to enemies) to lovers premise. For me, the romance was delightfully tinged with dread right up until the penultimate scene.
One of the elements I very much enjoyed about the story was the pacing. I think McKinley does an excellent job showing the different aspects of Jefferson’s life and getting these different aspects to mesh together into a full picture. We see him as a dedicated FBI agent putting in hours of thankless grunt work; talking shop with his partner, Caroline, and sharing a genuine friendship with her over a burger and fries; and the depth of feeling he still has for Finny. I liked that Jefferson’s life rhythms as an FBI agent get clearly established before Finny gets introduced. Why? Because it made it so clear to me how much Jefferson was distracted by reuniting with Finny. This also creates a nice stretch of tension between Jefferson and Finny where we, the reader, clearly observe Finny giving Jefferson the cold shoulder and Jefferson reluctantly acknowledging it’s his own damn fault. The truth of what actually ended Jefferson’s and Finny’s friendship was also kept a mystery for a while. All we know is that Jefferson takes full blame and whatever he did or said clearly still affects Finny. When the full story finally comes out, it made me appreciate both Finny’s desire for distance and Jefferson’s self-recrimination.
Of course, the tension between Jefferson and Finny sets the pair up for a deliciously long and slow burn romance. The dread I mentioned about their getting together stems from McKinley brilliantly working several possible, plausible murder suspects into the plot. That, coupled with Caroline’s steady and reasonable stance that Finny does not get a pass just because he’s Jefferson’s college bestie, had me half rooting for Jefferson/Finny and half hoping Jefferson would finally wake up and realize what a dupe he was. All I can say is that when Jefferson finally puts all the clues together, it plays into an exciting, page-turning conclusion that had my hands sweating with excitement.
Finally, I was absolutely charmed by McKiney’s choice to give Jefferson a hobby without telling us “Hey, Jefferson’s hobby is birdwatching!” It was cleverly subtle and wonderfully consistent across the whole of the book. There were never just “birds” in the story, but a cedar waxwing, a heron, a herring gull, or a Canadian goose.
Readers who like slow burns or thrillers will definitely enjoy this story. Though I am not an aficionado of law enforcement procedurals, I felt like the presentation of law enforcement activity here felt richly described without skipping the mundane aspects or over dramatizing the dangerous bits. I loved how much of a sap Jefferson is around Finny and how his somewhat clouded judgement influenced how I read the story, too. Overall, this was a spectacularly satisfying read.