Rating: 3.75 stars
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It is 1897 and Supernatural Secret Service agent Owen Sharps is on a train headed to his new assignment in St. Louis. When an attractive man ends up sitting next to Owen, he can’t help but be drawn to him, but Owen also knows he has to keep his sexuality a secret. Owen contents himself with some enjoyable friendly companionship for the duration of the trip, and the men are ready to part ways when they realize they are going to the same place. As it turns out, Owen’s traveling companion, Calvin Springfield, is actually his new partner in St. Louis.
When the men arrive, they get briefed on the situation in the city, including the fact that their predecessors are missing and presumed dead. Dismembered bodies have been turning up and there is a suggestion of dark rituals involved and perhaps a vampire behind it all. Fortunately, both Owen and Calvin are not without paranormal skills of their own. Owen is a medium and can see and often communicate with ghosts, while Calvin is a psychometric who can read the history of objects through touch. They also have the aid of their valet, Winston, who has his own magic. As Owen and Calvin dig deeper into the case, the more disturbing things become, however. It appears someone is trying to open the gates of hell and they seem ever closer to reaching their goal. Now, it will take all of Owen and Calvin’s skills, plus the help of some friends, to figure out who is behind it all and stop them before it is too late.
Peacemaker is the first book in the new Sharps & Springfield series focusing on Owen and Calvin’s adventures. I enjoy Morgan Brice’s writing and I was intrigued by the mix of historical western flavor and paranormal elements, a combination I don’t see often. Brice gives us a nice sense of time and place here, with St. Louis a city that feels like it is straddling the border between the more settled eastern cities and one on the edge of westward expansion. It makes a nice backdrop for the larger mystery and investigation and the little details really bring the setting to life. I found the investigation to be interesting overall and I think it is nice introduction to this supernatural world. We get to see folks with various paranormal abilities, both people on the side of the law and those up to no good. This is a nice suspense thriller, as the men dig into the murders and try to piece together who is behind it all and why. I enjoyed seeing the way they use their own skills to help things along, as well as the skills of various friends. I also really liked the way Brice brings in some strong female characters to play a a large side role, including a strong-willed and intrepid reporter and a Pinkerton agent posing as a dancer at a club. I did wish there was some more development as to the organization for which these guys work. We know that these guys will ultimately travel around and be assigned to cases at various places aside from St. Louis, but exactly what this organization does, who they report to, how their assignments are chosen, etc is never really developed.
One aspect of their job that we do see is the fancy train car where they live, so they can just hook the car up to a train and take off for another city. It is sort of fun fantasy fulfillment, as it is posh and luxurious and they have a valet who does everything from cook their food, to clean their weapons, to perform magic. Winston and their luxurious digs are a little too good to be true, but I was enjoying the fun of it too much to really care. It is also a nice way to give the guys a private home base where they can be together and live in what is basically a portable home. I also like the idea of the men moving around to different cities for each new case. It is a great way to take advantage of the historical time period by getting to watch them travel around the country.
The romance end is a very slow burn, as Owen and Calvin are pining over each other for most of the book before finally realizing they are into each other. Obviously, there are some major hurdles here as both risk jail or worse if someone finds out that they are gay, so they must be very cautious. We know they are both interested, but it takes some time before they reach a point where they can admit their feelings. Along the way, there is a lot of each man thinking about how much they want the other, as well as misunderstandings about the other man’s motives. I didn’t feel the chemistry click between these men as much as I wanted, unfortunately, though I can’t put my finger exactly on why. I also felt like their personalities weren’t as distinct as I needed and, at times, I had to focus on who was who. But given this is the first book in the series and the men had to keep at a distance for a lot of this story, there is plenty of time for things to develop.
This story has dual POVs with alternating chapters for the men. It is largely told in third person, but then there are frequent italicized internal thoughts that are in first person. To be honest, I found these so jarring and they really didn’t work for me. I didn’t really understand why some thoughts are explained through the text, and others use this change of viewpoint. But this style switch where out of nowhere one of the characters has his thoughts almost told right to the reader just took me out of the story every time. Part of it is the tone, as it is more informal and almost conversational. But also it just broke the flow of the narrative to suddenly have this POV switch for a line or two, or maybe a paragraph, and then it goes back to normal text. Just as an example, here are a few lines where we get the switch between the two styles (the italics are the way it appears in the book itself):
“Calvin will be running down some leads and contacts of his own,” Owen told her, eager to get back to the Pullman and put his head together with his partner.
I’d like to do more than that, but I’ll take what I can get.
Putting distance between himself and Calvin today had helped distract Owen. He hoped that once he returned to the Pullman he could keep his mind on the case and off his handsome partner.
It’s not the first time I’ve been attracted to someone I couldn’t have. But it’s the strongest feeling I’ve had for someone in a long time, and we’re going to be spending a lot of time together in an enclosed place.
I just found myself pulled out of the story every time the style shifted and it just didn’t feel like it added anything that sharing the internal thoughts through the regular narrative couldn’t have provided.
Overall, however, I found this a fun start to a new series. There are a lot of interesting places Brice can take these characters and the cases they investigate. I am looking forward to following along for more.