Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Declan Hunt and Charlie Watts have been in a holding pattern for months. Though they agreed to remain colleagues only, their growing feelings have them tangled up in knots. Charlie is trying to maintain the status quo, but he will abandon it in a flash if Declan wants to. For Declan, loving Charlie is a complication. He’s never far from his emotional wounds and believes he doesn’t deserve someone as sweet and good as Charlie.

While Declan is distracted by his angst and the secret he’s keeping, Charlie takes the lead on their newest case. Sinclair Yamada is an editor blackmailed by his author, Malcom Tull, who recently died under suspicious circumstances. Tull was the writer-in-residence at Hoodoo House, a fully funded position and home for a writer chosen by the publisher, and Sinclair is desperate to find Tull’s laptop and retrieve Tull’s last manuscript and other material.

In the course of solving the case, Declan and Charlie discover that the house holds more than just a housekeeper and a precocious thirteen-year-old named Henry. Surrounded by secrets, Charlie is faced with the reality that being a PI means keeping them, even substantial ones. While Declan is a master at it, Charlie is unsure if he can walk that path with Declan, especially when Declan is hiding secrets from him too.

Hoodoo House is the second installment in the Declan Hunt Mysteries series. I hate to say it, but the whodunit is somewhat lackluster. Plus, the elements of a budding romance I find engaging happen off-page. You’d think a story with a suspicious death, BDSM elements, and blackmail would be pretty entertaining, but there is little about the suspects or their motives I found interesting. Hoodoo House begins three months after Mann Hunt, and in that time, Declan and Charlie have apparently fallen in love, but are keeping things professional. With the story starting in medias res, there’s no build-up of emotions and tension as their feelings become deeper. All that occurs between books, so it’s mostly the “should I, shouldn’t I” of it all. The writing is solid, but to me there is a vibrancy missing that was present in the first book. Declan and Charlie’s attraction and occasional discomfiture are conveyed well, and they have good banter. However, the secondary characters aren’t as alive or as interesting as before. Only Henry is lively and even that feels forced sometimes.

Although the romance progression is off page, there is growth for both men. Charlie is still possessively petulant, but he’s also more mature, secure, and self-assured. His awkward awe of Declan has been replaced with equality between them. Charlie feels more like a peer and less like a lust sick child. His natural talent as a private investigator shines, as he does most of the work on their cases (when it isn’t being done by Henry). The tables have turned and now Charlie is the more confident one, while Declan is the more conflicted and vulnerable one.

Beneath Declan’s charm lies deep self-disgust and fierce anger that manifests as almost uncontrollable rage. He locks up his emotions because he fears losing control in any way. He believes his issues make him unworthy of happiness and is afraid to love. Most of Declan being in love and grappling with his fears is conveyed by a therapy session, and I wish more of the progression had happened in the book. Charlie was in lust at first sight, so falling in love is a no-brainer. This isn’t true for Declan, so I would have loved to see his conversion from let’s shag to I love you. Additionally, for emotional turmoil big enough to keep them apart for 70% of the book, the quick “I get in my own way and was scared you’d think I’m too messed up” explanation is a rushed resolution. Maybe it’s supposed to illustrate how situations can become overblown, but it comes across as “let’s wrap this up.”

I was hoping I’d eventually get engrossed in the mystery, but its execution falls flat. Henry is almost as instrumental to the case as the MCs, thus is almost just as present. Kids in books can be hit or miss, and I did not want to spend so much time in his adventures. He’s sweet and bright, but inconsistently characterized. Henry is very intelligent, potentially has an eidetic memory, and acts like he’s about nine or ten, but his inner voice fluctuates between the age he presents and someone older than his thirteen years. This makes some of his behavior feel like plot conveniences. It might be less noticeable if so much primary and secondary progress didn’t come from Henry and if I was invested in Charlie and Declan’s will they, won’t they mating dance. I also feel like the presence of the overarching villain is shoe-horned in. They’re alluded to a couple times, then a henchman pops up for a “they’ve got eyes everywhere” mwuuhaaa, then bounces right back out.

For all that doesn’t resonate with me, Charlie’s development does. He’s coming into his own professionally and personally, so that’s nice. It’s also good that Declan’s facing his ghosts (even though that is shortchanged). Henry is definitely a character, and his involvement can be entertaining. I think had I not read Mann Hunt, I could have liked Hoodoo House more. The missing connective tissue and the colorless mystery and characters makes too jarring a contrast. Hoodoo House can easily stand on its own, and if you try it, I hope you enjoy it.