Author: Robert Winter
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5 stars
Received from Publisher
Blurb: When Zachary Hall leaves Utah for a job in Washington, it’s finally his chance to live as a gay man and maybe find someone special. In a bar he meets Thomas Scarborough, a man who seems perfect in and out of the bedroom. But Thomas never dates. He never even sleeps with the same man twice. Despite their instant connection, he can offer Zachary only his friendship, and Zachary is looking for more.
Thomas is tempted to break his own rules, but years before, he became the victim of a stalker who nearly destroyed his life. Even though his stalker died, Thomas obsessively keeps others at a distance. Despite his fascination with Zachary, he is unable to lower his barriers. Frustrated, Zachary accepts he will never have what he wants with Thomas and soon finds it with another man.
But young gay men in Washington, DC, are being murdered, and the victims all have a connection to Thomas. Once again someone is watching Thomas’s every move. Can it be a coincidence? When the depraved killer turns his attention toward Zachary, Thomas must face the demons of his past—or lose his chance to open his heart to Zachary forever.
Review: Robert Winter has just cemented his spot on my “auto-buy” list. He’s now proven he can glue me to the pages with a suspense/mystery novel as handily as he did with his wonderful character-driven debut novel, September. But make no mistake, finely crafted characters and relationships are just as present and powerful in Every Breath You Take.
This story starts out on a murderous note, with the prologue leaving me absolutely needing to know how its dark events were going to figure in the lives of the main characters.
Zachary has come to D.C. to work at the Treasury Department. Relieved to be free of his conservative and clingy Utah family, Zachary was eager to strike out on his own and finally live openly as a gay man. To say I liked Zachary is an understatement; this man absolutely shone with a winning combination of guilelessness and confidence. Sure, Zach was a small-town boy in the big-city, but he was anything but a cliché. He didn’t act wide-eyed and overwhelmed, nor was he setting off on a crusade to taste all the man-candy in D.C. I appreciated that Zach was portrayed as sexually experienced, though he was not experienced with the hookup scene. He had a strong sense of self and what he was comfortable doing, what (and who) he wanted.
Thomas took much longer for me to warm up to. He had to earn my respect and even once he did, I partly liked him only because Zach did. An important counsel to a Senate Committee, Thomas kept his past close to the vest and his bed partners quickly shoved out the door. He justified this by always telling the men he pulled up front that he was a “one and done” man. What was unique and positive about Thomas is that once again, he was not a cliché character. Despite his sexual policies, he wasn’t a jerk at all, he didn’t act superior or affected; he was intriguing beyond his good looks. He obviously had a small group of friends he was loyal to, and he helped out others in need. The reader learns of Thomas’ awful past history with a stalker over the course of the book, before Zachary does, so seeing Zach work his way through Thomas’ guard was one of the many aspects that made this book gripping and interesting to read.
Zachary happens to visit a club called Mata Hari when he first arrives in D.C. It immediately suits him. It’s a lower key, upscale, piano bar with friendly patrons and a friendly bartender/owner named Randy. Zach meets Thomas at Mata Hari and the mutual attraction is immediate, certain, and scorching. The sex isn’t the only thing that goes up in flames though, as Thomas finds himself breaking his hookup rules with Zachary due to an undeniable deeper attraction. And someone watching from the wings is none too pleased. Someone is stalking in Thomas’ vicinity again, and killing too. This stalker was a serious sicko and gave me the major creeps. I waffled back and forth a few times in my deductions, and relished in wondering if I had figured out who this person was before it was revealed.
It was good to see Joe and Terry – who appeared in the author’s first book (same DC world) play important roles in this story. Their ease in befriending Zachary and their standing friendship with Thomas said a lot about their good character and their eye for good people. I also enjoyed the very direct and astute detective Torres. My hat is off to the author for designating this role to a female character. The club Mata Hari even became a character. I could clearly envision the interior scene as Miss Ethel- the charismatic piano player – led a full crowd in singing some classic tunes.
The suspense aspect of this story, exactly how the gruesome murders were linked to Thomas and Zach, and the countdown to discovering if it was going to be too late to change their seeming fate, was fantastic. Just as compelling were the relationship dynamics and character growth for Thomas and Zach. Zach was persistent, and able to reach a truly vulnerable side of Thomas. Through Zach, Thomas discovered things about himself he never fathomed. Sexual roles got turned on their ear in the most delicious way – let’s just say Zach in charge hit my buttons as well as Thomas’ – all while driving the plot and the character development. Sex being pivotal to plot is so important to me, and the author has this key point absolutely mastered. The climactic scene in the story teetered on being over-the-top, yet I ate it up with a spoon, just as I did with the lush circumstances Zachary and Thomas find themselves in on the final pages.
I highly recommended this book. The author seamlessly and convincingly combines elements of chilling suspense, self-discovery, friendship and love. His characters strike me as fresh and interesting people I’d like to hang out with at Mata Hari. I’m secretly hoping for a book about mister “used to be Secret Service,” Randy. 😉