A guest review by Buda
Summary Review: A plot with tremendous potential made disappointing by sketchy relationship-building and head-hopping.
Jasper Brady’s world was forever changed when his sixteen-year-old sister Monica went missing and was found dead two weeks later. Depression struck the family, leaving eleven-year-old Jasper vulnerable to years of neglect and serious abuse until he ran away.
Thirteen years later, his father is dead, his mother is struggling to reconnect with him, and his sister’s murder case is still unsolved. Then Jasper meets Zander Macon, who believes the original investigation of Monica’s death wasn’t properly handled. Jasper surprises himself by agreeing to help Zander in any way possible, and it doesn’t take long for someone to respond to Zander’s questions with lethal intent. Trying to survive and solve the case, Zander and Jasper find mutual attraction turning into more, and Jasper will confide the dark details of his childhood while Zander works to overcome his own issues with the past.
Jasper Brady receives a phone call from his hometown asking him to come care for his mother, Cindy, who is about to be released from the hospital after a botched suicide attempt. Jasper hasn’t seen his mother since he ran from what was left of his home at sixteen. After his sister, Monica, was murdered the day before Jasper’s eleventh birthday, his family ceased to function. His father locked himself in his home office and drank. His mother locked herself in her bedroom and popped pills to sleep. Jasper had to learn to take care of himself at that tender age. He even had to find out what happened to his sister from the newspapers, because neither of his parents would speak to or look at him and, apparently, the rest of the town ignored him as well.
Except for the predatory neighbor, that is. Niles Rimes, the local dentist, took young Jasper under his care and then turned the waking bad dream that was Jasper’s life into a nightmare of sexual abuse that lasted until Jasper was old enough, strong enough and big enough to run away. All of these are reasons why Jasper desperately wants to refuse to return to Carson to care for his mother; but, in the end, he cannot.
Zander Macon, a high school friend of the murdered Monica, has recently returned to Carson to recover from an injury sustained in Iraq. As an investigative journalist, he was riding along with three soldiers when an improvised explosive device shattered his leg and killed the soldiers with whom he was riding. Now, back home in Carson, his intention is to find out who killed Monica Brady, a crime that not only was never solved, but that seemed to go cold as soon as the body was discovered. When Jasper returns to Carson, Zander asks for his help. Not only are they able to solve the eighteen year old crime, but they fall in love in the process.
As with all of Lisa Marie Davis’ mysteries that I’ve read, the whodunit element is essentially destroyed right off the bat. While that may be part of the Grand Design for Ms Davis, so that the focus of the story is less on the mystery and more on the romantic development, it simply doesn’t work in this case. This particular book doesn’t name the actual murderer until somewhere near the end, but so many heads are hopped that where there could have been incredible tension and suspense, there is nothing. Scenes that could have been used to ramp up the excitement over discovering who killed young Monica and is now after Jasper and Zander are wasted on presenting outside points of view that basically tell you “who” straightaway. That is, without question or reserve, the main reason this book received a low score.
Jasper and Zander’s relationship just sort of happens, but without ever having been a focus of attention. At one point Zander says, “I want you, Jasper. I need to be honest about that. I’ve wanted you since the second I first saw you again, and you need to know that nothing you told me has changed my wanting you.” My reaction (voice aloud, to the startled chagrin of my dog) was simply to wonder why. By the time the two have sex for the first time, I was left wondering just what caused the two to feel so strongly for each other, aside from being two attractive openly gay men in a very small town. I didn’t fully comprehend what it was about Zander that allowed Jasper to feel safe for the first time since Monica’s disappearance, or for him to want to explore sex-with-emotion with Zander, something Jasper had never allowed himself to do before (the “with emotion” part, that is). There was really nothing there for me to develop a connection with these two men, to want them to find their happy for now, let alone a happy ever after.
Additionally, the dialogue, especially when coming out of Cindy Brady’s mouth, falls right into melodramatic, only occasionally teetering on the edge. Granted, the poor woman has been through a lot–burying a child and a husband, a suicide attempt and, finally, the revelation of Jasper’s abuse and the identity of the murderer–but that’s no excuse. And a lot of times, Jasper and Zander aren’t much better, though a lot of Jasper’s melodrama takes place in his head as he continually revisits the emotions connected to his past abuse.
Finally, and just for fun, I would really like to see police officer Kayne Kennedy from the author’s Shadows from the Past (reviewed by Lily here) ride into town and arrest these people for Felonious Battery with Bad Names. We have Jasper, Cindy and Nixon Brady, Zander and Darbi Macon; Noah, Brisa and Rory Willow; and Niles Rimes. The only poor sod with a regular name is the sheriff, Gary Hoover. And I could never read the name “Brisa” without thinking of the Jewish ceremony of a similar name. Ouch.
For all the reasons mentioned above, I can only recommend this book to anyone who is a die-hard fan of the author or to those who don’t wish to try to puzzle out the mystery presented them. I’ve read other, far better books by Ms Davis, including What Matters Most, a Ghost Whisperer-esque paranormal, or Dreams Come True, a wedding-related book, reviewed by Wave here.