Today, Jay and Michelle are back reviewing the second book in Tal Bauer’s Noah and Cole Thriller series. This book picks up with an established couple in Noah and Cole, but the story itself stands alone well. Check out our overview of the book, then both Jay and Michelle’s thoughts below.
Cole Kennedy and Noah Downing have settled into their lives together, jointly raising Noah’s daughter, Katie, and engaged to be married. Both men are happier than they have ever been, and while Noah sometimes worries if he can be a good enough husband for Cole, their lives are content. However, all of that falls apart when a ghost from Cole’s past reappears and threatens everything.
Eight years ago, Cole was a bright young FBI agent working in Behavioral Analysis. He was called in following the arrest of a serial killer to try to dig inside his mind. Ian was believed to have killed many men, but who they were and how many remained a mystery. Cole was able to gain Ian’s interest enough to get him talking, but the experience changed Cole forever. Delving that deeply into the mind of such a psychopath sent Cole to some very dark places and, even now, he struggles with the memories of the horrors Ian shared. The fact that Cole played an inadvertent role in Ian’s ultimate escape from custody will forever haunt him.
Now, after years of silence, Ian is back. The BAU is involved once again and they want Cole’s help to catch him. The idea of returning to that dark place, of putting himself back into Ian’s mind, is horrifying for Cole. But with Ian threatening all Cole holds dear, he has no choice but to once again delve into the mind of a killer.
Rating: 4.25 stars
The Grave Between Us picks back up with Noah and Cole in the months after The Murder Between Us. That first book had an engaging mystery, but the tone was much more oriented to the romance between the men, particularly in the early portion of the story. Here the tone is much darker and more intense — downright horrifying in places. The story moves between present day, as Cole and Noah and the FBI try to track down Ian and stop him before it is too late, and eight years prior, as Cole interrogates Ian while he is in custody. The style works well, as it really brings into focus all Cole went through. It left deep emotional and mental scars, pain that he still suffers. We also are able to live through that horror with him as he learns details about the killings from a sadistic man who revels in other people’s terror. The case itself is intense and engaging. I thought I knew exactly how it would play out, and I am pleased to say I was wrong. I also enjoyed the details of the investigation, watching how the agents worked the case and put the pieces together.
The investigation is the focus of the story, but it then leads into the further development of Cole and Noah’s relationship. Noah never knew details of Cole’s past with the case, and learning what happened really opens up something between them, an understanding about a hidden part of Cole. Both of these men are terrified for the other at various points, and it really highlights for them how much they have come to mean to each other. And of course, the killer has an unnatural interest in the men, meaning the case twists insidiously into their lives in terrifying ways.
I wasn’t expecting another story for these guys, but I found I really enjoyed reconnecting with them. Like, I said, this book is much darker in tone than the first, and much more intense. But it really drew me in and Bauer does a great job weaving together the case and the relationship to great effect.
It was exciting to learn that there was another book for Cole and Noah. Their story in the previous book, The Murder Between Us, left them in a great place and here the story focuses on a new case and goes deeper into the bond between the men.
There was a lot to like about this book. The story starts out and continues all the way through showing the relationship that Noah and Cole have developed. They are solid in their life together and solid in their love for each other and there is no place either of them would rather be. Cole never thought he would want to live and work in Iowa, but being with Noah and Noah’s daughter, Katie, is everything he wants every day.
I also liked that we know from the start who the “bad guy” is. Eight years ago, Cole was brought in to interrogate a serial killer and, through flashbacks, we learn along with Cole how deep and dark the killer is. The case changed Cole in many ways, none for the better, and when the killer escaped, Cole’s professional and personal life fell apart for a time. And now, Cole has to go back into that mindset to catch and stop the same killer and the stakes are so high for Cole. While the unraveling of Cole was well done, I find too often in books that the highest trained agents almost collapse at the first sign of distress and I saw that several times here and that aspect got tedious as a whole.
The story of the serial killer is darker and what we learn about his prey and his victims is disturbing and made for good intensity throughout the story. However, I couldn’t get past the issues I had with how the FBI was shown to operate, both in the past and in the present. Most of the issues are spoilers and I can’t go into detail, but everything about the killer’s escape was suspect to me, from where the blame was placed, to how the FBI was still operating in regard to Cole when the killer emerges again. It left me with so many questions on protocol and detail that it was too much for me to put aside. Also, while the intensity stayed high throughout the book, I knew what the killer’s goal was, so it then started toning down that rush as the book continued.
While I did have some issues with some pieces of this story, seeing Cole and Noah’s relationship evolve made the journey worthwhile.