Ian Hughes returns from a business trip only to discover his wife Debbie has been brutally murdered. When a bloody note reveals Ian was the intended victim, Detective Danny Diaz is assigned to act as Ian’s bodyguard. The two men were best friends in high school, and now that they’ve been thrown together again, the feeling they each secretly harbor for the other are rekindled. As Danny tries to keep Ian from being the killer’s next victim, things between them ignite into a sexual tension that’s hot enough to destroy Danny’s career. Secret business deals, sexual, and long-held grudges are all exposed as Danny tries to find the murderer. Amidst all the lies and cover-ups one thing is certain — although everyone seems to love Ian, someone wants him dead. The closer they get to solving the crime, the closer the attempts on Ian’s life come to actually succeeding.
Is it fate that brought Ian and Danny together? Will their relationship survive the scrutiny of the investigation or the stress of being a target? Will they catch the killer before the killer gets Ian? Or will Ian survive to live happily ever after with Danny?
I picked up Death Changes Everything as I was in the mood for a mystery/suspense story and I was intrigued by the set up. However, this book didn’t work for me almost from the first page and I had issues with both the writing style, as well as the story itself. So, at about 30%, I finally decided that I was going to set it down. I truly do not want to bash the author or the story, but when we give a book a DNF or an unusually low rating, I do think it is important to explain why clearly in the review, so here we go…
This was my first book by Sean Cunningham and, unfortunately, the author’s style just didn’t work for me. The writing just didn’t feel polished and the wording was often quite awkward. Just as an example, Ian after being told about Debbie’s murder:
Ian, who is extremely intelligent, looked confused as his mind grappled to understand what was happening.
This example is particularly clunky as the tense switches to present for just part of this sentence when the rest of the story is told in past tense. The author also has a very adverb heavy style, with lots of detail that didn’t feel natural or necessary, which also made things flow less smoothly for me. The POV also floats around across the characters, sometimes from one sentence the next. It felt very much like a shortcut to get information across to the reader directly, rather than working it naturally into the story, and it got confusing when the POV character would change from one moment to the next.
Unfortunately, along with finding the writing style not to my taste, the story just didn’t work for me at all in the portion I read. Again, things often just felt clunky or awkwardly portrayed. But even more than that, at times it veered so unrealistic as to be absurd. At other times, the story reads like a cheesy porn movie. So let’s unpack it, shall we?
Danny and Ian were apparently friends in high school. Things are a little unclear, as the blurb refers to them as best friends, but the story makes them seem less close. Either way, they totally lost touch after high school and haven’t seen or spoken to one another in 15 years. The killer has left a note indicating Ian was the intended victim, so Danny and his partner decide Ian needs police protection. Which they decide means Danny “guarding” him by sleeping in Ian’s hotel room. There is another cop stationed outside the door, but for some reason, Danny needs to actually be in Ian’s room with him. Which is super convenient as it allows Danny to ogle Ian’s dick and ass and think about sleeping with him… and for Ian to pretty much do the same. Let me be clear that this excerpt is the NEXT DAY after Ian finds out his wife has been brutally stabbed to death in their home:
Ian chuckled nervously, “This is so embarrassing, but I had the biggest crush on you. I guess I thought my suspicions of you being gay were just wishful thinking.”
“What’s embarrassing about that? I’m actually flattered. To be honest, I had a crush on you. When I’d go swimming at your house, I used to get a boner every time I looked at you. I was sure you had noticed.”
“You mean like the boner you sprung as you’ve been checking me out while I’m getting ready?” Ian asked, smiling and nodding at the obvious protrusion in Danny’s slacks.
“I’m so sorry. I uh…” Danny’s hands dropped to his lap to try and hide his excitement.
“Don’t be sorry. I’m glad I can have that effect on you. It lets me know all those hours in the gym are paying off. I’m going to jump in the shower now. I think if you sit on the bathroom counter you’d get a better view,” Ian said with a wink as he took off his briefs.
Danny fixated on Ian’s impressive cock. Even soft, it was obvious he was hung. “Uh…thanks, but I better stay out here. I need to keep things professional.”
“Do you like what you see?”
“Yes…no…I mean…seriously, I’ve got to remain professional.”
Ian laughed, “You mean like you are right now? I think a burglar could come into the room, steal all my things, and you’d never notice because all you’re looking at is my cock.”
Danny forced himself to look up at Ian’s face. “I really am sorry! It’s just I’ve wanted to see you ever since high school. I always knew you were big, I just didn’t realize you were this big.”
“It grows even bigger when it’s hard,” Ian teased.
While Ian and Debbie had an open marriage and were not sleeping together anymore, Ian says she was his best friend and he is supposed to have loved and cared about her. But within about 12 hours of finding out she was stabbed to death, he is flirting with Danny. Not to mention that Danny is actively involved in investigating Debbie’s murder and Ian is her husband, but while he gives lip service to that conflict of interest, that doesn’t stop his ogling, nor some early attempts at hooking up that are thwarted by bad timing before Danny decides he better keep hands off until the case is over (at least, that is where things were at the point I stopped reading). Honestly, the whole relationship dynamic between them was confusing to me, as they were friends 15 years ago (and Danny had a secret crush on Ian), but they haven’t spoken in years. But then, almost right away, they are so intense about one another, talking about how they are now such incredibly close friends, sharing feelings of love, etc that suggested a far deeper connection than it seems they have had. Again, we are talking a couple of days from poor Debbie’s death at this point in the story.
Also, everyone else seems to want them to hook up too. Danny’s partner knows he has feelings for Ian and that he is behaving unprofessionally, but she doesn’t do anything about it (at least up to where I read) because Ian is apparently making Danny so happy. Ian’s mom comes into town and rents a hotel suite and wants Ian there. She somehow immediately senses the connection between him and Danny and encourages them to share a room, with only one bed, naturally. So again, Danny, who is investigating Debbie’s death, is now literally sharing a bed with the victim’s husband, and everyone is ok with that because they want him to hook up with Ian. Oh, and then Ian’s mom takes them both shopping for suits for Debbie’s funeral. Danny has a brief crisis of conscience about how he is letting the victim’s husband’s mom buy him gifts, but easily brushes it aside:
“How do I explain showing up to work in a ten thousand dollar suit? Internal Affairs will investigate me for taking bribes,” Danny said. He was a good cop and didn’t want to give anyone any reason to suspect otherwise.
“Then maybe it isn’t the best idea to wear them to work. Save them for special occasions,” Ian suggested.
At which point, the problem is solved. Just accept the outrageous gift and keep it hidden. But the whole investigation and mystery side of this story feel’s so neglected up to this point, honestly, it doesn’t really matter anyway if Danny could be accused of accepting bribes. Everyone has already decided Ian isn’t a suspect because he is “too nice” to be a murderer (and yes, that is what they say multiple times). No one does much investigating aside from asking Debbie’s sister, brother-in-law, and a co-worker a few questions. I also found it curious how anyone even knew Debbie had died, as Ian shows up after being out of town with the police already at his house having found her body, but no one had any reason to think her missing and there is no suggestion of a neighbor or anyone having called the police. I have no idea if the case picks up later in the book, but it was definitely a back burner situation in the first 30% I read without much in the way of real suspense or mystery plotting. No one, including Ian, seems particularly pressed to find out who killed poor Debbie, except for the fact that once the case is closed, Ian and Danny can have sex. And Ian is quite clear more than once how horny he is.
But, lest you worry about poor Ian having to wait until his wife’s murderer is caught, don’t be too concerned. So, apparently Debbie was in a three-way relationship/affair with her brother-in-law and another co-worker, Grady (which, again, they had an open relationship so fair game as long as you ignore the sleeping with her sister’s husband thing). Ian decides that he can’t go back to his house, as it is the scene of a brutal crime, and goes to Debbie’s real estate office to talk to Grady about buying another house. Danny gets called to the station (leaving Ian unguarded) and within two minutes this happens…
As soon as Danny left, Grady got up and stood behind Ian, and began massaging his neck.
“What are you doing?” Ian asked, turning his gaze from the computer to look at Grady.
“I know the last week has been very stressful. You look all tense, so I thought I’d help you relax,” Grady replied, continuing to massage Ian’s shoulders.
“That’s very nice of you, but really it’s not necessary,” Ian said politely.
“You’ve got stress knots all over. Somebody needs to help you get rid of them. I enjoy giving massages, so just relax and let me help you,” Grady said as his hands started going lower to massage Ian’s back. “In fact, I’d love to give you a full-body massage. That would really help you relax.”
“[…] Not to change the subject, but why don’t we go to the apartment behind Debbie’s office? You can lay on the bed and I can give you that full-body massage you are so desperately in need of,” Grady suggested.
“I don’t know. That might be a little inappropriate, especially if I do inherit the business like you think I will,” Ian said reluctantly.
“It’s just a massage. […] So, if you wanted to do more, I’d be more than willing. However, all I’m suggesting is a simple massage. Seriously, you have so many knots in your back and shoulders, you really need to relax and get rid of them. Come on,” Grady said, as he took Ian’s hand and led him to the bedroom in the apartment.
Ian laid down on the bed and asked, “Is this where you want me?”
“That’s fine, but you have to get rid of your clothes so I can give you a proper massage, complete with oil and everything. If you are shy, you can leave your undies on, but I might get oil on them, so it would be best to take them off,” Grady said.
Ian stood and started to get undressed. Grady also started to undress. “If this is just a massage, why are you taking your clothes off?” Ian asked nervously.
“Remember the massage oil? It will ruin my clothes the same way it will ruin yours. I’ll keep my briefs on if that will make you feel more comfortable.”[…]
Grady flashed his sexy smile and asked, “Who said you have to resist? I’ve always thought you were sexy. Like I said before, I’m willing to go as far as you want to go.”
“I appreciate that, but there’s someone I like and I don’t want to fuck things up and destroy any chance we might have of being together,” Ian said, thinking back on his earlier conversation with Danny.
“If you like him that much, it should be easy to say no,” Grady said.
“You would think that, but I haven’t had sex in a while and to be brutally honest, I’m really horny,” Ian said without thinking. Then he quickly added, “Why did I say that? I’m sorry, maybe the massage is a bad idea after all.”
At this point Ian was naked and Grady was only wearing his briefs. It was obvious both men were starting to get hard. Grady looked into Ian’s eyes and said, “I don’t think you need a massage after all. I think you need something more relaxing. Don’t worry, this will stay between us. Nobody will ever know.”
So yes, Ian waits about five minutes before having sex with someone else despite his supposed feelings for Danny because he is just so horny. AND the guy Ian has sex with used to be sleeping with his wife. AND that wife was murdered mere days ago. At that point, I knew it was the end for me. I seriously couldn’t believe the story went to this cheesy, porny “you are so tense, let me give you a massage” place.
Ok, so that went on longer than I intended, but I truly do not take DNF’ing a book lightly and I wanted you all to understand my reasoning. Unfortunately, I only made it about 30% of the way through before I knew there was no way this one was going to work for me and I was better off focusing my reading time elsewhere. Sadly, I am curious about the mystery and would have been interested in seeing where things went, but if the characters didn’t seem to be bothered to care what happened to Debbie, I couldn’t either.
P.S. Just to be clear, I had no issue with the idea of Danny and Ian getting together. That is clear from the blurb and I knew that going in. But I was expecting some character development and story nuance as the men dealt with their growing feelings, particularly the timing so soon after Debbie’s death. I also expected some realistic portrayal of how them hooking up could affect Danny and his job. Basically, I was expecting some depth to the portrayal of the situation and that just didn’t come, at least in the first third of the book.