Sam Carver loves his husband, Mark Buchan, but he isn’t sure he can stay with him. When the men first started dating, they knew that there was a chance kissing could spark the bond between them if they were fated mates, since Sam is a wolf shifter and Mark a witch. But things were going great between them and they couldn’t resist taking the chance. As it turns out, the two were fated mates, and kissing started the bond between witch and familiar. As such, Sam’s magic helps to fuel Mark’s own, as well as healing Mark when he is injured. Sam loves Mark, but he has never been comfortable with the bond, with the sense of always being open to someone else. And he definitely isn’t happy that Mark uses Sam’s magic without asking, often leaving Sam vulnerable and depleted. They have had this argument many times and, with nothing changing, Sam knows it isn’t working between them. The only way for Sam to figure things out is to walk away.
Mark loves Sam and is devastated when he leaves. Mark never quite realized the extent of his actions with regard to Sam’s magic, nor did he ever want to hurt Sam. Sam being gone is leaving a hole in Mark’s heart, but Sam doesn’t even want to talk to him.
Mark is a cop who works with the human police and is investigating a case of starved witches who have been dumped in a local river. Sam ends up getting brought in to work with Mark, as Sam works for the Coven as a “cleaner” of sorts. HIs job is to help keep supernatural crimes out of the eye of humans, particularly the local police forces who know nothing about shifters and witches. Working together means that the men can’t avoid one another completely, and being with Mark helps Sam realize he truly does love his husband and doesn’t want things to end between them. He just isn’t sure how to function with the bond between them making him stressed and anxious. Now, as Sam and Mark hunt for a killer, they also have to figure out if there is a way they can still be together as husbands and mates.
The Detective’s Familiar is the fifth book in T.J. Nichols’ Familiar Mates series. The first three books in the series operated as standalones in a shared world, with extremely minimal overlap. However, this book is a bit different in that it connects more directly with book four, The Vet’s Christmas Familiar. In that story, we meet Sam when he is called in to do cleanup after the murder of Kit’s family. He has a reasonable sized role as a supporting character there, but more importantly, the mystery in that story leads into the one here. The exact nature of the connection is not clear yet, but we do know it’s there. So while the basics are explained here, I think you’d enjoy this one more if you have read Christmas Familiar as well.
I have been really enjoying this series, particularly Nichols’ take on the fated mates trope, along with the witch/familiar bond and the way those two concepts intertwine. Here that is taken to a new level with the conflict facing Mark and Sam. The pair met and started falling for one another when they triggered the mate bond between them. Kissing is the spark that sets it off, but it is not clear how much being mates leads the pairs to each other in the first place. So the men had some uncertainty, both if they wanted to chance triggering the bond, as well as whether they would have found the same connection between them had they never gone through the bonding process. Now that they are married, the witch/familiar bond is active and it is draining Sam, both physically and emotionally. He isn’t comfortable with Mark being in his head, he has severe anxiety about one of them dying and leading to the death of the other, and he doesn’t like Mark using his magic without asking. Sam is really struggling emotionally, and given how much he loves Mark, he doesn’t see a solution other than making a break from him. I found it really interesting the way this is explored, as fated mate bonds are normally treated as so wonderful and ideal in paranormal stories, so I enjoyed seeing the other side of it explored here. Even as the men come to work through their issues on a personal level, this bond is still there and they have to figure out how to make their relationship work going forward with this obstacle between them. I think this is presented really well here, but I do feel like the ultimate resolution comes on very fast. I would have liked to see a little more time with how it all plays out at the end, as things felt rushed to me after so much build up.
The other portion of the story deals with the case of the murdered witches, although the storylines do overlap, as Mark and Sam end up working together on the case. It also highlights more of the conflict between them as Mark works for the human police and believes witches and shifters should reveal themselves to the public. Sam, on the other hand, works for the Coven, and his job is mostly to cover up the evidence of the crimes. In terms of the case, Mark struggles in that he knows the murders involve paranormals, but he can’t tell his coworkers that, so he has to figure out a way to bring in what he learns without revealing details that can’t be shared. I think this aspect of the story could have been strengthened as, in the end, we don’t make much progress uncovering what is going on. I was not prepared for the book to end with no resolution to the case, and it appears it will be picked up in the next book. The last story did connect to this case as well, but it also had a discreet mystery that was resolved. So here things just felt open ended and there is no closure at all on the case other than the idea that someone else will be taking over the investigation. So I found this part of the story interesting, but not as developed as I wanted.
The Familiar Mates series is one that I have ben really enjoying and this story is no exception. I liked the unique look at a fated mates relationship and the nontraditional approach to the bond and how it affects the men. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how things continue for the series, as well as with this mystery.