Deadly Little Sparrow coverRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Xaviaro Saviano is feared across the city as the deadly triggerman for the Moretti crime family. He may have wealth and power, but he is also missing any kind of spark of excitement in his life. That is until one night, he is sitting in a bar and in walks a little twink of a man, full of attitude and exuding power. When the guy takes on a pair of motorcycle club members without flinching, Xaviaro’s pulse goes racing for the first time in a long while. Something about this little guy who takes on these rough men twice his size without hesitation just does something to Xaviaro and he can’t get the man out of his mind. He has no idea who he is, but Xaviaro dubs him “Sparrow” for the tattoo of the bird on his neck.

Sparrow has come into town looking for the four members of the motorcycle gang who killed his brother. Or more accurately, hooked Bennie on drugs, sexually assaulted him while he overdosed, and let him die. Sparrow is mourning Bennie’s death and is willing to do whatever it takes for revenge, even if it means tanking his old life and killing the men who hurt his brother. Sparrow may have been born to a life of wealth and privilege, but that is all behind him now. He gave up everything to get vengeance for Bennie’s death and he is going to let nothing get in his way, not even the sexy mafia triggerman from the bar that he can’t stop thinking about.

Xaviaro can’t get Sparrow out of his mind. He knows he is distracted on the job, but he is spending as much time following Sparrow around as he is working for the Morettis. When the two meet up again, they can’t help but act on the attraction between them, especially as they realize that Sparrow’s dominance is a perfect match for the submissive side Xaviano has long been aching to let free. The two are not only a match in the bedroom, but Sparrow’s blood thirst is a perfect fit for Xaviano’s deadly job. In fact, Xaviano has fallen hard for his “Deadly Little Sparrow,” and Sparrow returns his feelings. But Sparrow came to town with one goal, to avenge his brother’s death, and he never even envisioned a life for himself after that. Now, the men must work to finish Sparrow’s quest, avoid running afoul of Moretti family business, and then figure out if there is a way they can have a future together.

Deadly Little Sparrow kicks off K.M. Neuhold’s new Mafia Bound series and I really enjoyed it. While the story has a strong revenge plot, the real heart of the book is the relationship between Sparrow and Xaviano and I just loved their dynamic. This is one of my reading catnip tropes, with the smaller man wrapping the big bad killer around his little finger. Sparrow is all anger and grief-fueled desire to see his brother’s killers pay. He may be tiny, but he is bold, full of attitude, and unwilling to back down. He takes on people twice his size with barely a blink, at least partly because he doesn’t see much of a future for himself when this is all over anyway. Sparrow will take on anyone and fears no one. What makes this dynamic so much fun here is that Xaviano is by all accounts one of the most terrifying men in the city. He is the Moretti’s killer; people quake when he walks in the room. But when he is off the clock, Xaviano craves submission and Sparrow is eager to provide dominance. They are sexy and intense and find this surprising connection, each fueled by the attraction and the enjoyment of the other’s darker side. And these guys are dark. They get hot at killing and danger, and watching each other take on bad guys gets them crazy horny. But at the same time as they would each just as easily kill a man as look at him, both Sparrow and Xaviano have a sweet and soft side with each other (Sparrow calls Xaviano his “murder marshmallow” and it totally fits). The dynamic between them absolutely worked for me and really added so much to the story.

Alongside the developing relationship, we follow along as Sparrow tracks down the four men involved in his brother’s murder, as well as get some day-in-the-life from Xaviano as a mafia killer. We meet some of the other key members of the Moretti family (at least some of whom are clearly being queued up for their own stories) and there is a nice “found family” element here, even as they are a group of killers. While these are all criminals and “bad guys,” the story keeps things light in the sense that we don’t really delve into the illegal side of things much. The Morettis are an organized crime family, presumably they actually have illegal and dangerous businesses, but we never even hear what those businesses are. Any bad guys we see them take down are all low life pedophiles and drug dealers and abusers. Even the one guy Xaviano roughs up for owing the Morettis money turns out to also be a scum willing to traffic his young daughter to save himself. So all of that is to say, they are dangerous men and the story has some blood and gore, but things are somewhat sanitized in that the actions we see everyone take are generally only against horrible people.

I think some of the details on this part of the story needed more development, particularly with regard to Sparrow’s progression from this wealthy, former prep school kid into a vigilante killer. We don’t even really get much of an outline, let alone a full backstory. We know that Bennie’s death hits Sparrow hard and that he has a picture of a drugged out Bennie with these four men who he is now hunting down. I was never clear where Sparrow got this photo, or how he knows it was taken right before Bennie died, that these men were involved in his death, and that Bennie was sexually assaulted by them while overdosing. We hear nothing about any kind of police investigation or involvement, just that Sparrow went into full on vigilante mode. I wanted to understand more about what flipped this switch, what kind of guy he was before all this, and what it is about him that makes him just say fuck it all, I’m going to take these guys on myself, when most people would never dream of doing something like that. We are also told that Sparrow hired the world’s most notorious contract killer to teach him the ropes. I am not clear how this average, albeit wealthy, guy somehow manages to track down one of the most dangerous assassins in the world and convince him to teach him how to be a killer. This whole part is just mentioned in passing and basically skipped over. I was also never clear how much time had passed since Bennie died or how long Sparrow had been “training.” I think I could have been fine with the focus on the present and less on the backstory, but so much of the book rests on this idea of Sparrow being this normal guy and suddenly upending his life to be a vigilante killer. So I just needed more of that developed to have it all fully work for me.

As I said, I particularly loved this relationship and I could read ten more books about these guys, just watching them interact. Neuhold has just nailed this dynamic between Sparrow and Xaviano and they make a strangely appealing couple, given they are a pair of remorseless killers. I am excited to see that this is the start of a series and I am really looking forward to learning what is up next in this world.

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