Author: Dal Maclean
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Rating: 5 stars
Received from Publisher
Detective Sergeant James Henderson’s remarkable gut instincts have put him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector. But the advancement of his career has come at a cost. Gay, posh and eager to prove himself in the Metropolitan Police, James has allowed himself few chances for romance.
But when the murder of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, all that changes. His investigation leads him to a circle of irresistibly charming men. And though he knows better, James finds himself enticed into their company.
Soon his desire for photographer Ben Morgan challenges him to find a way into the other man’s lifestyle of one-night stands and carefree promiscuity. At the same time his single murder case multiplies into a cruel pattern of violence and depravity.
But as the bodies pile up and shocking secrets come to light, James finds both his tumultuous private life and coveted career threatened by a bitter legacy.
Review: One of my favorite experiences as a reader is to pick up an author’s debut book and dive in with no particular expectations, just gleeful anticipation. Okay, Dal MacLean was touted – and rightly so – by many of my favorite authors. After reading the story it is easy to understand why. This is a brilliant and captivating page turner – an out of the box, thought provoking, daring, and emotionally wrenching story. A multi-faceted mystery intertwined with one man’s achingly poignant personal awakening.
It’s February in London and there’s been a murder. The crime falls at the feet of James Henderson, a detective sergeant with the South Kensington Murder Investigation Team. Despite the fact that James is a veritable newbie on the force, he is on a career fast track. A notably keen intuition, golden work ethic, and affable manor are to thank. Well, that and his posh good looks and confidence in front of the camera have made him invaluable on public-appeal TV appearances.
The story is told in third person limited, with James being front and center. We learn that while he is successful and self-assured at work, his personal life is a shamble. James has left his silver-spoon life and his father behind in order to be true to the man he is – the gay man he is. The human being he is. Work is not only a place where he feels needed, it has become a refuge. Although, spending most of his nights on a cot in the office might be pushing it too far. One murder is followed by a second, and this time it’s personal. As James and the MIT unit follow leads, he never dreams where one of them will take him.
During the investigation, James crosses paths with Ben, who happens to be looking for a flat-mate. It’s a glorious flat. Perfect location, affordable rent, gorgeous lighting, loads of bookshelves in the bedroom. Beautiful, alluring Ben. James does his best to keep his relationship with Ben on the friend only level. Despite being schooled a bit regarding Ben’s highly active social life by Steggie – their warm and supportive porn actor neighbor – and despite his own misgivings, James becomes involved with Ben. And that’s all you’re getting from me about plot specifics!!
James. Oh my. The most intriguing character I’ve read in a long while. Experiencing his feelings of social naivety as a gay man, he could have easily been a character to pity, to feel sympathy for. Conversely, given his keen ability as an MIT sergeant, he could have come across as brash, cocky, and cold. However, from the pen of this author he begged none of this with his behavior. Rather, I felt as though I was him, groping my way through familiar and unfamiliar territory. I empathized with how personal the case became to him, and also with the doubts, triumphs and hurdles he faced in his personal life. Alright, so I did want to invite him in for a hug and a cup of tea – complete with whisky – numerous times when he was pondering the “emotional innocence” an ex-lover accused him of embodying. James easily won a top spot in my heart.
Ben. Beautiful, talented Ben the photographer. He was so generous, so downright kind to James. A true friend. He was not hard-wired to be hurtful, yet he seemed absolutely unable to be anything but in the long run. He definitely ran hot and very, very cold as far as how I felt about him, and his treatment of James. I cheered at the bold manner in which the author presented this relationship. The insight to James’ every thought and emotion was both a blessing and a curse. James found himself out of his comfort level, but even though Ben was the more experienced, James went in with eyes open. His heart open too. James’ heart and his ability to truly listen to it became a huge factor in the story. I suspect some readers are going to have a very difficult time with Ben, and quite possibly with James’ decisions regarding Ben. I was quite fascinated with Ben myself, for me it was entirely plausible that James felt the way he did about him.
The mystery in the story is brilliant. The ultimate, fascinating murder/perp back-story involves much unpleasantness, and caused me to squirm, but it wasn’t preachy or overly dwelled on for dramatic effect. Extra kudos for that achievement. In fact the book in equal measures focuses on the procedural elements of James’ job and his personal life. I was riveted.
Secondary characters shine. There was the previously mentioned colorful Steggie. And I must mention James’ boss, Detective Chief Inspector Ingham. The foul mouthed, shrewd, fair-minded, half-Jamaican firecracker was a force to be reckoned with. I adored her and the respectful manner in which she and James worked together. I applaud and thank the author for prominently featuring a strong, important female character. I also love that Alec – James’ work cohort – had his back in every way.
The author wove every element of this story together seamlessly. Not only that, at over 70% into the book I was still waffling in my mind about not only “who done it,” but just who was going to win James’ heart. Was anybody?!! OMG was this magnificent. I was sitting on the sofa muttering and gasping and thinking, no don’t do it, shit-shit-shit, he’s okay, he’s not okay, oh! you wanker, OK now I’ve got the bad guy sorted…no, apparently I don’t! … etc. My SO was chuckling at me and asking me if he should be ready to duck a flying Kindle. Quite the opposite. The plot of this story is brilliant and amazing. Each chapter pushed and pulled on my heart and my gut – churned them up and spit them out again. Yes, James and I were pushed out of our comfort levels, but oh fellow readers, please, this is marvelous writing, this is life – messy and problematic and usually quite worth the bumps and bruises. Reading this story was a marvelous experience. Exactly what I hope for when I pick up a book. The author’s lush gorgeous writing style produces heart stopping, fist stomping emotions without a scrap of contrived drama or angst. No dead end twists, just a flat out, hold your breath ride to the end.
James has earned a very tender place in my, thankfully whole again, heart. Dal MacLean has done the same. More! Please!