Unlike the other members of their elite group of assassins, Ian Abbott’s whole life has been spent under the careful tutelage of one killer or another. First, there was Rhys. Now, there is Katherine. And Ian is nothing if not an impeccable hired gun. After all, how else was he supposed to get the attention of the much older Rhys? Sadly, Ian’s feelings were unrequited and soon Ian stopped reporting for duty, period. In his anger and frustration, Ian trashed Rhys’ old room and found two curious photographs, one showing a young boy named Adam Morrow—a boy who is the spitting image of Rhys himself.
Adam Morrow worked his ass off to please his ultra-conservative adoptive mother. And when he finally landed a prime job as a medical doctor with beautiful woman on his arm, Adam thought maybe he was going to find his place in life. But fate had other ideas. While making rounds of his surgery patients, Adam finds out the hard way that his most recent heart transplant recipient is a member of the mafia when Adam walks in on the assassin making the hit.
Caught between a rock and a hard place as much as he is caught by those stunningly familiar eyes, Ian decides to throw protocol out the window. Instead of killing Adam, he abducts the young doctor. Ian’s motley group of assassins are welcoming enough towards Adam, but Katherine is livid. She makes her orders to Ian clear: stay away from the distraction that is Adam. Yet Ian is still responsible for making Adam a cooperative part of the team. And the longer Ian and Adam hover in one another’s persona space, the more they cannot deny the attraction they feel. Too bad there are zero assurances things won’t fall apart if they give into their desire.
The Dead Don’t Lie is the first book in the Dead Generations series by author Anne Russo. It combines a lot of interesting themes, including assassins-for-hire, age difference with a side of unrequited love, and what I would consider a version of Stockholm Syndrome. It’s set in modern day New York City and features a cast of elite assassins with arguably nebulous end goals. As a whole, this book didn’t really work for me. The writing felt unpolished in ways that distracted me as a reader. As two examples that capture the bulk of my struggles enjoying the written word here, consider:
“And if you want the people, you love to live. You’ll do what I tell you.”
His legs heavy, rooted to the floor, were shockingly aware of his heartbeat’s quickening from Ian’s mere proximity.
As I read the first example, all I can focus on is the confusing punctuation. In the second example, it reads that the character’s legs are shockingly aware. That kind of anthropomorphization of body parts doesn’t really mesh with what, overall, feels like a gritty, unapologetic murderer-for-hire storyline.
Speaking of murder for hire, I would have loved a touch more clarity on the organization Ian works for. It wasn’t clear if Katherine and her assassins are out getting justice vigilante style or out to settle personal injustices or what. That said, it’s fair to say that murkiness makes Adam’s utter confusion at his new lot in life—having to train to become an assassin himself—that much starker. I also think this heavily veiled world of assassins and bad guys creates a ton of tension between Ian and Adam. As someone who is picking this book up to review for an LGBTQ romance book blog, I’m obviously primed for some type of romance thread 98% of the time. And for those of us who enjoy a slow burn and false starts and “are they ever gonna figure it out” in their novels, Russo delivers it in spades. Ian and Adam are constantly trying to manage the desire they feel with the feelings that they shouldn’t get together. I would be hard pressed to say I felt like their relationship really develops into a proper courtship; it feels like their relationship is more “one step forward, one step back,” but that single step forward (and back) gets bigger. As in, one step forward is they kiss and one step backward is Ian ignores Adam for a few weeks. Or one step forward is they fuck and one step backward is Ian putting the life of Adam’s ex in jeopardy.
Ian’s an assassin, so he’s no stranger to violence. I would say this book challenged my expectations for a One True Love (i.e. Adam in this case) to sort of give Ian his humanity back. But it did take a while for me to fully appreciate how damaged Ian is as a potential romantic partner. The scene the finally lifted that veil happened after one of the many times Ian very clearly rejects Adam’s advances. Adam decides to go to a club and, naturally, Ian follows. But upon seeing Adam getting cozy with someone else,
Ian’s eyes narrowed as this nobody made Adam’s entire face light up. The stranger nuzzled Adam’s neck. A simple gesture, but it sparked a near riot inside Ian as his vision tunneled until its focus zeroed in on Adam’s face. Rage settled over his entire body—an itchy red haze.
I’ve recently been reminded that there is no requirement for main characters of stories to be paragons of virtue or to always demonstrate exemplary behavior and choices. So, while I personally find this aspect of Ian’s inability to cope with his feelings for Adam abhorrent and problematic for Adam, I guess for readers it’s just worth including a warning about possible abusive behavior.
As far as characters go, I think Ian and Adam both reflect their situations well. Over the course of the book, I really got the sense how narrowly Ian can relate to people in his personal/professional life because of how he was raised (i.e. raised to be an assassin). Adam also feels appropriately mercurial for someone who was once a medical doctor and is now learning how to kill people—plus the romantic attraction he starts to develop for Ian, despite Ian’s often negative or, at best, mixed signals. And it turns out their connection has ties that predate the action on page, so I would encourage any readers to read carefully during flashbacks or other discussion about Ian’s or Adam’s childhoods.
Overall, I found it difficult to get into the book. The first hurdle was the writing. A second hurdle is how it feels like plot points got recycled. There were two “Ian’s going after a target he’s been following for years” episodes. Ian and Adam both, at different times, get captured. And the cycles of romantic attraction/interest between Ian and Adam felt more like “one step forward, one step back” rather than any sort of progression or regression. For readers who are diehard fans of grittier stories or want a romance that’s well outside the instalove/star-crossed lovers genres, you may find this enjoyable.