Zero at the Bone

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Title: Zero at the Bone
Author: Jane Seville
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Romantic Suspense, Thriller
Length: 308 Pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by Jenre

Those of you who, like me, love watching thrilling action films will find this book exactly to your taste. In fact, I spent the majority of time whilst reading Zero at the Bone thinking what a great film it would make. It’s got all the right elements: A taciturn, reluctant, tortured hero; an honourable, personable, hero who appears helpless but has an inner strength; several different bad guys; shady government officials; action set pieces involving explosions, gun fights and car chases; betrayals; murders and underpinning the whole thing is a great love story between two seemingly opposite men.

The book begins as we meet D, a hit man and our reluctant hero. He is blackmailed into taking a job to kill our other hero, Jack, who is in witness protection, having witnessed a mob murder. However, D is a hit man with a conscience: He won’t kill people who aren’t already bad guys themselves. Jack, as a good, brave man who has given up his job and his life to testify against the mob, doesn’t fall into the ‘bad guy’ category and so D cannot kill him; even when he has the gun pointing at his head. Having been unable to carry out the hit, D realises that he now needs to protect Jack from the other hit men who would only be too glad to pick up where he has failed. He is also aware that the hit on Jack may not have been given to him by the mob guys, but may have come from another source; someone who was using Jack to get to D.

What follows is a breathtaking ride as we follow this odd couple into hiding. D feels that he is the only one who can save Jack, and the first part of the book concerns how they hide out from those who wish to kill Jack and frame D. I was amazed at all the little details that the author had included to make this as realistic as possible. Details such as how D gets weapons and money; how they manage to avoid being caught; the intricacies of how the hit men operate. All these ideas built up in the book so that I really believed that D had the know how and resources to back up his claims that he was the best person to protect Jack.

It is during these weeks that the pair are hiding out together that their relationship is developed. D starts the book being so closed-up in his feelings that he lives in a constant state of emotional denial. It takes Jack and his gentle, yet insistent probing to get D to open up and face some of the things that have happened in his past; things that led to him becoming a hit man. This part of the book was incredibly well done and when the men became intimate it was more than just a need for sex, but an opportunity for D to accept that he is able once again to have tender, sentimental feelings for another person.

The second half of the book is very action packed, with a court drama, and a final confrontation with the person who had betrayed D. Then the book shifts slightly as the characters are separated for a time before being reunited in a most satisfactory fashion. This part of the book was mostly about Jack: His feelings for D; how he copes with testifying; how he adjusts to a new life. Some readers may feel frustrated at this separation between the characters so late in the book, but I felt it was signposted throughout the book and gave us an opportunity to understand Jack better and to see how he has also grown and developed from the frightened man we see at the start of the book.

I have to admit, going back to the film analogy again, that this book reminded me rather of the last Lord of the Rings film because it had so many endings. Quite a number of times I felt that the book could have ended at that point, but no, here was another chapter, and another. This didn’t bother me too much and the final scene as they drove off into the sunset was a nice touch, and a nod once more as to how cinematic the book is. However, then we get to the epilogue during which things went downhill rather rapidly.

It’s an unfortunate fact that an epilogue can sometimes ruin the ending to a good book and I’m afraid this was definitely the case here. A good epilogue should be a snapshot of the lives of our main characters at some point in the future. It should be short and sweet. This epilogue was nothing like that. In fact I have to say that this did not read like an epilogue at all but rather like the first few chapters of a sequel. For a start it was too long, going on for pages and pages. Secondly, it introduced a whole slew of new characters. Thirdly, it brought in a new plot and themes, including a rather nasty description of a crime scene that D had to witness. In some ways I can understand the author wanting to set up a situation for a sequel, especially as I’ve heard that there is one in the pipeline. However, this didn’t leave me hungry for the next book: This was the next book and I wished that the author hadn’t included it here as it severely detracted from the lovely HEA at the end of the last chapter. What a shame.

Overall, until that epilogue, this book was a great read, a fantastic read and I highly recommend that you buy this book. However, take my advice and don’t read the epilogue – leave the last image you have in your mind the one of Jack and D, together at last, and not of a gruesome murder. Then, when the sequel comes out, go back and read the epilogue in preparation for the next book.

33 thoughts on “Zero at the Bone

  1. NL Gassert

    Yes, a thriller/suspense novel. Whoohoo. Just the kind of book I’ve been waiting for. Why aren’t there more of them?

    It’s not 1st POV, is it? That would kill it for me.

  2. Jenre

    NL: No this is not 1st person. We get to spend a bit of time in both D and Jack’s head which worked well because the reader is able to see how both of them are reacting to the situation they are in.

  3. melka

    Hi, Jenre! I liked your review and totally agree with you about the epilogue(s). Less is more, and at the end of this book, I wasn’t so eager to read more about Jack and D so much as simply relieved it was finally over. For her first book, it felt like the author wanted to cram everything into it, and then plugged in a blatant lead in for a sequel. All said, like NL, I’m just thrilled with a new novel that has good, hard action. The author also has a few nice shorts about Jack and D on her website.

  4. Jane Seville

    Hi everyone! Jane here. Jenre gave me a heads-up that her review would be here (as it was on her blog) so I could join in any discussion of my starting-to-be infamous epilogue here as I did there. I admit that I was a bit surprised at the widely varying reactions to the epilogue; of all the people who read this story before publication, no one ever mentioned it. Just goes to show that you can never anticipate what people are going to react to! Keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure.

    I think the epilogue, which yes, is substantial, just as long as the chapters which preceded it, reflects my own tendencies as a reader. At the end of a story with characters I’ve grown attached to, I always want to find out more. That’s part of what led me to BE a writer. I’d read a novel and want to know more, so I’d start writing it in my head.

    In this case, because both the lead characters had the lives they’d had before meeting each other totally destroyed, my goal was to give a snapshot of what the life they are now building together is like. Where do they live? Where do they work? What kinds of people are in their lives now? What’s working for them and what’s still an issue? I gave myself a handy riding into a literal sunset ending spot…but I wasn’t satisfied with it. It felt too pat to me. I wanted to talk about how Jack still had issues with things about D’s past, and that the past wasn’t going to let go of D so easily, either. I wanted to get an outsider’s view of them as a couple, which is what led to the introduction of D’s FBI colleagues.

    I know it’s some kind of rule that you’re not supposed to introduce new characters this late in the story. Yeah, I’m a rebel, and I’ll never ever be any good (heh). And yes, there is some seed-planting going on for the story’s continuation, but this isn’t a direct lead-in. The events of this epilogue don’t segue directly to the sequel, which is going to pick up three years later. I haven’t even written it yet.

    I put Jack and D through such hell in this book and dragged the reader along with for the ride. I felt that the story had earned a more significant look at whatever peace they’d been able to find together, tainted or not as it was.

    Anyway. Jenre gave a great, accurate representation of the book, and you know what else? Her one criticism, namely the epilogue, is the kind of criticism I love to get because it makes me really think about why I wrote something the way I did, and if I stand by it or wish I’d done it differently. In this case, I stand by the epilogue. I really like it, myself, in fact it’s one of my favorite parts. I can totally see how some readers might not like this coda to the story. Others have posted and said that they liked it a lot. When it’s such a matter of individual taste, it’s easy to take from the discussion some useful thoughts for my future writing.

    And hey, as my webmaster said, if the worst thing anyone says about my book is that the ending reminded them of “Lord of the Rings” then I’m doing okay! :-)

    Melka-
    I will be adding more shorts to my website on a regular basis (in fact I’m writing one now), so check back from time to time, or join my Google group to get notifications when there’s a new one. Also, this isn’t really important but Zero isn’t my first novel, just my first in this genre.

  5. jessewave

    Hi Jane
    I plan to read this book and another guest reviewer will be reviewing it as well. Isn’t it nice that your book is getting so much attention? :)

    I remember one other book that I read – Riding Heartbreak Road by Kiernan Kelly – which had an epilogue and I hated the book for that; I really wished that she hadn’t done it. So did a lot of other readers. While she doesn’t regret the epilogue I think Kiernan was taken aback at the readers’ strong reaction but most of us were upset because this came out of the blue and no one liked it, other than the writer. From the reactions of the readers here, this would seem to be the case in Zero

    So my question to you Jane is – why does an author feel that she has to write epilogues at the end of a story? Isn’t the end, The End? Is your story not complete without the epilogue?

  6. Jane Seville

    Jesse-
    First of all, I don’t think it’s the case that no one likes the epilogue but me. Rikki Donovan really liked it, and I’ve gotten some reviews at Amazon and Goodreads, etc, that didn’t seem to have a problem with it. I certainly hope that people don’t hate Zero for the epilogue. That certainly wasn’t the impression I got from Jen!

    In this case, I did not feel the story was emotionally complete at the end of chapter 30, for the reasons that I cited in my previous comment. I felt that it was important to establish how Jack and D were rebuilding their lives after the events of the book. In fact, the writer’s group who originally read this novel specifically asked for an epilogue that addressed these issues because they didn’t feel it was complete, either.

    I’d only ask that any new readers go into the book with an open mind. Don’t set out reading it with the assumption that you’re going to hate the epilogue! A number of readers have said that they liked it.

  7. Jane Seville

    Oh, I forgot to say, Jesse, that yes, it’s great the book is getting so much attention! I’m thrilled that people are reading and discussing and (mostly) enjoying it…with the caveat that I hold out hope that the discussion might not be entirely focused on the epilogue, and pass over the thirty chapters which preceded it!

    But I’ll discuss anything readers wish to. If you want to talk about D’s haircut, I’ll talk about it. :-)

  8. jessewave

    Hi Jane
    Thanks for replying and explaining why the epilogue.

    I always wonder about that – i.e. an author’s motivation to include it in the first place, not necessarily Zero but any book. I’m definitely going to read Zero with an open mind as I do with any book, and I would be interested in Christian’s reaction as well since as I mentioned earlier he will be reviewing it too.

    But I’ll discuss anything readers wish to. If you want to talk about D’s haircut, I’ll talk about it.I might have a question or two about the haircut. *g*

    How is it I never heard about you before? Have you been hiding under another pseud?

  9. Jane Seville

    Jesse
    No, I haven’t been hiding. This is just my first time writing professionally in this genre. I do a lot of freelance and I have a mainstream novel in the pipeline.

    It’s like Jen said, an epilogue is generally supposed to be a snapshot of the characters a little further down the road, which is what my epilogue is…it’s just a bit less like a single photo and more like a Flickr stream from about an 8 hour period (which is what the epilogue covers, roughly)

    I await your haircut-related questions with bated breath. :-) Believe it or not, the length of D’s hair is actually kind of important in the book!

  10. elemelf

    Hey, brought me out of the woodwork again (big lurker here).
    I actually liked the epilogue – because the book had been so long (even though it didn’t seem LONG while I was reading it), I was pretty invested in the characters by the time The End rolled around. I guess I have similar motivations to Ms Seville – I usually want to see how folks do after The End, especially when they’ve been through a wringer like Zero. So, had there been The End without the epilogue, the book would have been less satisfying to me, and I’d be chomping at the bit (more) to get the sequel to see how they’re settling. But, I recognize that’s a reader’s taste.
    Caveat: I loved this book; I read enough M/M that anything different and GOOD like this gets my attention like a dog whistle. After I’d finished the first read, I went back and read it again, then e-mailed my appreciation to Ms. Seville, that good. So, take my comments for what they’re worth.

  11. jessewave

    Thanks Elemelf

    I’ll remember your comment when I read the epilogue. What I was concerned about is that usually an epilogue is 3 – 4 pages tops and the comments I have heard led me to believe it was more like a regular chapter. Anyway I’ll wait until I actually read the book before I say anything else.:)

  12. Jane Seville

    Jesse
    Yes, the epilogue is about the same length as all the previous chapters. But I think the salient question here is whether it goes with the rest of the book. I mean, I think Jen would have had the same concerns about it whether I’d called it the Epilogue or Chapter 31.

  13. Jenre

    Had mad day today so only just getting back.

    I’m sorry in a way that the epilogue has become such a big deal, both here and at my blog. Mainly because it was the ONLY thing that I didn’t connect with in the book. The only thing. The rest of the book was just fabulous and I hope that comes across in my review.

    I really hope that people won’t be put off buying this because I found one thing to complain about!

    Jane: Yep, even if you’d called it chapter 31, I still would have found it an odd add-on to the end of chapter 30:).

  14. jessewave

    Jen
    You were quite right to mention the epilogue because that’s why we all do reviews, to give the readers a sense of what we liked or didn’t like about a book. We do reviews for the readers and no one else.

    I’m looking forward to reading Zero to form my own opinion about the story, with or without the epilogue. Btw, yours was not the first comment I read about how this story ended, and I was really interested to get your perspective.

  15. Jane Seville

    Jen
    Ye gods, don’t apologize. That’s your job. And it’s really made me think, and thinking is good. And it gives me an excuse to interact with all of you, and that’s good too.

  16. jessewave

    Jane

    And it gives me an excuse to interact with all of you, and that’s good too.One of the things you’ll find out about the group on this blog is that we all have opinions and we’re not afraid to express ourselves. Some of us even feel that we can write, yours truly included. :) All of the writers expect a big of a ragging when their reviews are posted here. :) It’s all good; we make you sharper for when your next review is posted. *g*

  17. Rikki

    I liked the epilogue, that’s true. Usually a 3-4 page epilogue that just shows me that the HEA is still going on after a few months doesn’t really do it for me. I expected nothing else. So when I saw Jane’s epilogue, or chapter 31 or whatever you want to call it, I thought it was a nice change from the usual. I didn’t mind new characters being introduced or that it didn’t end in a rosy cloud. By the end of the book (before the epilogue) I still wanted to know more, and I got more. I appreciated that.

  18. Kris

    I’ve already commented at Jen’s blog about the fact that I had a similar reaction to hers. I wrote: Once I came to the end of the epilogue I assumed it must be associated with the lead up to a sequel (which I also hope will happen because I LOVED these characters); however, and being totally honest, I still would have preferred it not to have been included. It didn’t ‘wreck’ the HEA of the last chapter for me, but it did make me scratch my head and ‘hmmm’.Regardless it is a terrific book and I was VERY pleased when Jane let Jen and I know that a sequel was in the works. D is an awesome anti-hero!

  19. Lily

    Great review Jen.

    This sounds like an amazing book, epilogue controversy aside, and I’ll definitely be putting it at the top of my TBB list. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Lily

  20. melka

    elemelf, I agree, I liked the leisurely epilogue after such a long novel, but I think Jenre hits it exactly on the head. The description of the murder was so vivid, and the mystery with no leads was so intriguing, that it distracted me from the HEA. Otherwise, I absolutely loved the interactions between the agents as they discussed D! :D

  21. Jane Seville

    Hey all…I’m so fascinated by everyone’s different viewpoints on this.

    Melka-
    That was kind of the point. I didn’t want there to be an ordinary, pat HEA. I wanted the ending to be more like “and they lived happily ever after, or at least for the next few hours, with lingering issues and possible trouble ahead, and troubling bad people out there in the world, but for now things are good here in Columbus, and there’s love and Chinese leftovers and snuggles and blowjobs and bickering and a nice little brick house in a good neighborhood, but it might not always be like that, so let’s hug up while we can.”

    Uh…yeah, that’s a long acronym. :-)

  22. elemelf

    Yeah, Melka & company – part of what I liked was the leisurely review, and frankly with the fact of their lives – D's not really going to slow down, is he? – the epilogue with the continuation made sense to me. It was a bridge, for sure, and it was a bit of a 'cliff hanger' but to me, it just gave me more a feeling of realism to the book.
    I mean – I don't think I'm saying this exactly right – but the 'pat' epilogue is "and then they got the house and the dog" but "pat" is really never going to be D's life, nor Jack's as long as he hitches his wagon to D's. Part of what drew me to the novel was the sense of realism, the grit – the characters weren't stock 'twink and butch' or 'hero and his little woman' and that's part of what I liked. The action wasn't the glossy Hollywood shoot-em-up. The epilogue being less-than-typical was part & parcel. I mean, this isn't a book that you close and forget, imo.
    My .02, at least. :-)

  23. melka

    Hey Jane! I do like the fact that it wasn’t an ordinary HEA *insert long anachronism*. I hope you don’t get the wrong impression. I adored the action and grit of the novel, reading it in one setting until 3am in the morning. Since someone already asked about the hair, can I ask about the name? D is for Dane, but did you start with the Dane or the D?

  24. Jane Seville

    Melka
    I began with D. For a long time, he was just D to me. His real name isn’t used for…gosh, I don’t even recall the first time it’s used. It’s not for the first several chapters, anyway. And you’ll notice that even after he knows his real name, Jack still calls him D most of the time. I decided that even after he was out of the closet with his identity, so to speak, he’d retain that D name as a bit of a symbol of him integrating that which made him D into the man who was Anson. And that concludes my attempt to be deep for this evening.

  25. Anonymous

    The ending wasnt an issue for me, I sometimes got a little frustrated with D but that was my only miniscule problem.

    I actually liked the length of the ending as I had just been on this breakneck speed adventure and totally fell in love with the characters.

    It was a chance to see those characters at peace and reap thier rewards.

    often one of my biggest complaints is not seeing enough of the happily ever afters.

    - I also suggest for everyone to go to the authors site to read the free stories, they are set a few months after this book and show the time line progressing

    I would of gave it 5 stars LOL even with my minor irritations this book deserved it. :)

  26. Ingrid

    I am a bit late to reply since I wanted to read it first before reading the review.
    So I did not know the issues about the epilogue, which is just as well. My view is that this epilogue was good but could have been much shorter and still have given the same feel about what they are up to a few months later.

    But Jane I can also see what you mean with your explanation about this longish epilogue.

    The only thing I had was the dialect. As a non native speaker it is a bit harder to get in to.

  27. Anonymous

    I just read the book and I agree with Ingrid, the accent took some getting used to but I still loved the book and will definitely read the sequel. I consider it a DIK.
    I liked the epilogue though the murder at the end was gruesome it added to the story since that is what D will be dealing with and it will affect their lives together.
    Great secondary characters esp Megan. Does she get her HEA?
    Suzi.

  28. MaDonna

    Cliche, I know, but I couldn’t put the novel down. In fact, I took a well deserved day off to finish it (and Tere Michaels’ second fabulous novel).

    From reading the blurb I wasn’t sure how in the world I could find a liking or fondness for a hitman. I was wrong. The two near polar-opposite protagonists are wonderful together. Loved the sprinkled red herring, the action, tenderness, heartache, humour and the supporting cast of characters.

    Dare I say I absolutely loved the epilogue. I just didn’t want them to ‘ride off into the sunset.’ I needed to know where they went from there, I needed to know how they’re doing now – and I dearly hope there’s a sequel. The enticing ending calls for one.

  29. MaDonna

    There is one thing that bothered me. D’s accent or dialect. It really wasn’t necessary, I don’t think, for the author to have him speaking so. It interupted the flow as, at first, he came across less suavely dangerous and more irritating goon. A cartoon character. I hope Ms. Seville tones it down a little in the (keeping fingers crossed) sequel.

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