After Declan Hunt was drummed out of the police force for clocking a homophobic officer, he opened a detective agency with the aim of helping those afraid of or unable to trust the police, specifically those in the LGBTQ+ community. Sometimes his clients are a bit shady and those cases have him dealing with the underbelly of the city, but it’s not Declan’s job to uphold the law anymore. It’s his job to help his clients without bending too many laws in the process. When his receptionist has to leave suddenly for three weeks, Declan is forced to find a temporary replacement and, within moments of meeting Charlie, Declan feels he’s lucked out.
Since graduating from college, Charlie Watts has shuffled from IT internship to internship, but has never been offered a job. Unable to keep up his rent and now with no job at all, Charlie’s been forced to move back in with his parents. Desperate for anything, he accepts an interview to be the office and technical manager for a PI. While he admittedly is drawn to the job because Declan is hot, Charlie soon realizes he may have a knack for it.
When the wife of a photographer/real estate investor hires Declan to find her husband, what begins as a missing persons case becomes shrouded in danger and murder. Declan is taken aback but pleased by how capable his young, inexperienced temp is and how seamlessly they work together. Being helpful to and needed by Declan is intoxicating to Charlie, and he begins to become as enamored with the job as he is with Declan. However, as the two get closer to the truth, Declan begins to question whether the job is too dangerous for Charlie and Charlie is at risk of more than a broken heart.
Mann Hunt is the first book in the Declan Hunt Mysteries series from new-to-me author Peter E. Fenton. Declan is determined, resourceful, self-assured, and easy-going. He’s not very careful with his well-being and has a tendency to drown his troubles and negative emotion in booze and/or sex. He’s not above using his good looks and devilish smile to get what he wants and uses any tools to close a case. As with many media PIs, his morals are grayish when it comes to getting the job done, but he’s a good guy who’s skilled at what he does. Losing his mother at a young age and dealing with a virulently homophobic father has made him resilient, but not bitter. He lives his life unapologetically and doesn’t let his demons overcome him.
Though the story is told in third-person limited with POVs from other characters to give the reader insights, this feels more like Charlie’s story. He’s unsure of himself and who he is—he doesn’t know how to tell his parents he’s gay, he has no experience with men, and he’s at loose ends. Working for Declan gives him a sense of purpose and excitement he’s been lacking, and in Declan a role model for how to live your truth and stand up for yourself. Charlie has a sweet, but horny puppy dog energy that has him metaphorically humping Declan’s leg and doing any and everything he can to please him. However, under the haze of hormones is an intelligent, quick-witted, and adaptable person whose innate kindness gives him a knack for putting people at ease and fostering good-will.
Mann Hunt is a fast-paced whodunit with solid writing and enough intrigue that although I figured out who the baddie is earlier than I would have liked, the wrap-up was still satisfying. There’s also a nice set-up for a possibly over-arching antagonist. While the story slows down enough for some development of the MCs’ backstories and motivations, the balance is a little off when it comes to Charlie. The establishment of his relationship with his BFF is done well, but most of Charlie’s interiority focuses more on dat ass. There’s a lot to like about Charlie, but his relentless thirst can overwhelm other facets of his character. For example, after Charlie has a close encounter with body parts on his first day, his untapped, virginal energy has him focusing on Declan’s sexiness instead of any reservations. His instantaneous crush is possessive with an almost obsessive quality at times that highlights his immaturity. Charlie’s cuteness is also almost surpassed by his creepiness in a scene where he laments about only staring at his passed out boss’ junk instead of touching it. Like, no baby no, please don’t regret not potentially sexually assaulting your drunk employer!
Charlie wants Declan so desperately because he’s hot, kind, and appreciative of his work, hot, and hot; he only shows signs of growth at the very end. For this reason, the blurb is a bit misleading; it’s ending query of “And will Declan be able to solve the mystery of his relationship with Charlie who is clearly attracted to him — especially since it is evident that the attraction is becoming mutual?” is VERY overstated. Their romantic relationship seems to be the type that will burn slowly over multiple books. At no point is Declan trying to “solve the mystery of his relationship with Charlie”; there is no mystery. Declan spends his free time sexing up a hot, closeted cop he really likes. Never Been Kissed Charlie pines and laments in the background, lapping up the crumbs of Declan’s admiration and affection like an anteater’s snout in an anthill while salivating like a dog whenever in the vicinity of any attractive man. Declan quips “we’ve really got to find you a boyfriend,” and he’s SO not wrong. There are a couple of hints that Declan sees Charlie as a man, but only as passing thoughts until around 96% when the mutuality of the attraction becomes definitive, and the story ends on the possibility of a future HFN.
From my perspective, it’s actually great that the pair don’t get together yet. While it’s obvious why Declan might become attracted to Charlie once he stops seeing him as a cute kid, Charlie needs to gain more experience and maturity. Charlie jumped at the chance to interview with Declan after seeing a picture that Charlie ogles like rescuer porn and never graduates from that lustful fixation. So I’m interested to see Charlie’s trajectory in the next book and how Declan’s growing awareness of Charlie as an attractive man affects their working dynamic.