Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 8 hours, 25 minutes
Special Agent Jefferson Haines has just been called to the scene of what looks to be the latest murder by the so-called Smiley Face Killer. At first, it appeared the drownings among the young men all over Boston could have been accidental or unrelated, but it has become increasingly clear to the FBI that the deaths are linked murders. The killer has been leaving his calling card in the form of increasingly obvious smiley faces and Jefferson and his partner, Caroline, have now been tasked with taking the lead on the case.
As Jefferson and Caroline begin their investigation, Jefferson is stunned to encounter his former best friend and college roommate, Finny Ashley, when reaching out to some city officials. The men haven’t spoken in years, after having once been incredibly close friends. In fact, Jefferson had hoped that one day they might be more. But one night changed everything between them, and Finny severed their friendship and all communication. Seeing Finny again reopens those old wounds, as Jefferson’s feelings haven’t changed, but Finny still wants nothing to do with him. However, Finny’s job and his familiarity with the areas where the killer might be working mean that the men have no choice but to interact on the case.
As the investigation continues and Jefferson and Caroline begin to put more of a profile together on the killer, Caroline begins to wonder if Finny could be more involved than he is letting on. Jefferson refuses to believe the man could have anything to do with the killings, but Caroline isn’t sure Jefferson has much perspective. As the men spend more time together, Jefferson finally has a chance to clear the air between them about what happened that fateful night years ago. And in doing so, it opens up not just the friendship they shared, but the chance to explore something more. However, a killer is still on the loose and he seems to have both Finny and Jefferson in his sights. Now, they must race to catch the murderer before it is too late and he strikes again.
Nothing But Good caught my eye when Camille reviewed it for us in ebook form, so I was eager to grab it in audio with one of my favorite narrators, Kirt Graves. This is author Kess McKinley’s debut work and I was really impressed with this exciting and taut thriller. The case is twisty, exciting, and intense. The story builds so nicely, with McKinley setting the stage for the past murders and leading us through the investigation. I really enjoyed following along as Jeffereson and Caroline begin to interview witnesses, review evidence, and slowly begin to paint a picture of the killer. I also loved the way McKinley integrates the city of Boston into the story, and we really get to explore a lot of the city as they investigate. The mystery kept me guessing and the ending is incredibly intense and exciting. I loved that there are some unexpected elements to how the story plays out and I was totally engrossed in the case.
The story is told in Jefferson’s POV and McKinley does a great job establishing him as a character. I felt like I really knew and understood him and found him a really engaging lead. I also really liked his relationship with Caroline, and it is clear that the two are very close friends, but also that Caroline won’t put up with any nonsense from him. Things get strained as Jefferson finds himself pulled between the case and his feelings for Finny, and I just found the dynamic between the partners really interesting.
I enjoyed the balance of the case, the personal side of Jefferson’s life, and then how that all interplays with his growing relationship with Finny. It takes a while before we know what caused the rift between them, and Jefferson is both determined to make things right with Finny, but also struggling as Finny clearly wants nothing to do with him. I’ll admit, I was kind of expecting the reveal to be bigger. I can see why Finny was mad and upset, but ten years mad and refusing all contact seemed surprising to me, given what happened. What I think McKinley does really well here is plant that seed of doubt about Finny. I mean, I have read enough romances that I knew Finny wasn’t going to end up being the killer. But at the same time, McKinley made me believe he could be, and the conflict that builds between Jefferson and Caroline really enhances that. It adds an interesting edge to the case and the way the author brings it all together at the end just works so perfectly. My only hitch is these conflicts ended up slightly affecting my feelings about Finny. It took me longer than I expected to fully warm up to him and to their relationship. I wanted to be all in, but I felt myself struggling a tiny bit totally feeling things between them.
I listened to this in audio and Kirt Graves does a wonderful job with the narration. Jefferson and Finny have distinct voices and the many side characters also work well. I particularly appreciated that Caroline’s voice is so well done, as she has a lot of page time, and Graves really captures the dynamic between she and Jefferson. Graves gives Jefferson a slight Boston accent, just enough to ground the story in the city (though most of the other characters do not have accents). My favorite part is how well Graves really gets the pacing and the tone of the story. With a mystery, there is a build that has to happen as the intensity grows, and that comes through well. I can’t say anything about the ending, but I’ll mention that there are some scenes with Jefferson when things are getting dire where Graves is just spot on in how he is portrayed. So I really enjoyed the audio can definitely recommend it as an option.
This one turned out to be a great murder mystery and I was totally caught up in the story. There is also a nice friends-to-enemies-to-lovers vibe between Finny and Jefferson, and things come together really well at the end for them. If you enjoy well-paced, exciting thrillers, definitely check this one out.