Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Jack Masterson was a firefighter until one massive blaze ended his career and put him on disability. Needing a new career and a way to help people involved, Jack created The Brothers Grime, a biohazard cleanup company. The Brothers Grime go to work at the crime scenes after the police and other agencies have cleared the site for clean up. Jack’s company’s job is to help people move on from a traumatic event by physically cleaning up all the mess left behind, the blood, the gore, everything. Then one night, The Brothers Grime get a call that changes everything for Jack. A man committed suicide at his cousin’s house and a clean up is needed. The suicide? One Nick Foasberg, former friend and more of Jack Masterson.
Jack’s memories of Nick are as traumatic as the accident that disabled him, perhaps more so. A high school attack on Jack involved Nick and others, an attack so savage it put Jack in the hospital for months and has had ramifications for Jack’s life ever since. And Nick’s suicide brings them all back with a vengeance. Further complicating things is Ryan Halloran, Nick’s cousin and owner of the house Nick was living in. Ryan looks like Nick while acting nothing like him. Nick’s life had been spiraling out of control for years as drugs and alcohol took control of his life. Ryan, a nurse, had been trying to help Nick recover.
Nick’s suicide brings the men together. And while Ryan only knows part of Nick’s past with Jack, the two men decide to gain closure and clean up Ryan’s house together. As an attraction grows between them so does Jack’s guilt over a secret he is keeping hidden from Ryan. Ryan has made Jack feel alive again after years of numbness and Jack doesn’t want to lose this chance at love. Both men need to move beyond their involvement with Nick and their pasts before they can find love again with each other.
I love Z.A. Maxfield’s stories and Grime and Punishment is no exception. In this first book in a new series, the author delves into the relatively unknown field of crime scene environmental cleanup, a fascinating aspect of the trauma crimes leave behind. With that occupation as a foundation, Maxfield gives us a group of emotionally and physically wounded men around which to build her story and series. I am sure I am not the only one who has not given a thought as to what happens when the police and medical examiners leave a scene. Maxfield takes us there and shows us the people and companies that make a living cleaning up the tragedies that life brings. The reality of these firms is both ugly and redeeming. They descend upon the scene, jockeying to throw in their bids and grab up the job before anyone else and that often means talking to the victim or victims shortly after the trauma has occurred. The manner in which that interaction is handled swings between sensitivity and rapaciousness.
For Maxfield’s character, Jack Masterson, this is not merely a job but a way in which he can help the victims move forward with their lives. He has been on the both sides of this job and knows that he and his people can make a difference and not just a living. Jack Masterson is one of the walking wounded. Jack was traumatized early in life by an attack during high school brought on by someone he loved and trusted. And that betrayal has caused Jack to emotionally withdraw from life. Jack is a masterful creation, a complex personality whose frailties, his emotional and physical vulnerabilities make him an easily accessible character to identify and like. And as he starts to change and become alive once more, the reader is so heavily invested in his emotional growth and rebirth that we feel we are there with him every step of the way.
Ryan also has many layers to him, a nurse drawn to the downtrodden and lost, he too must look closely at himself and his motives with regard to his relationships with Jack and Nick. The build to a relationship between Ryan and Jack is slow and full of obstacles. It is instead a very realistic portrait of two men wary of each other and their pasts who cautiously proceed forward together with no guarantees. I loved this aspect of the story and look forward to much more of them and the series.
Of course, there are so many others to grab your attention. Police officer Dave, so deeply in the closet he has built that he sees no way out, Dave too was affected deeply by Jack’s past as was everyone Jack has remained close to. The Brothers Grime is full of people who care for Jack, whether it is Gabe, Jack’s cousin or the others that work with them. All characters feel so alive that it is easy to entrust your affections to this diverse group of individuals and their various situations.
i love the way Maxfield has built her narrative here. At the start, it seems slow, almost a little frozen, just as Jack is. He is numb emotionally, physically hurting and so is everyone around him. All are bogged down in life, frozen in status as the story starts and the narrative reflects that. It’s mood is just as dark and deep as the characters at this stage in the story. But as their emotional stasis breaks up and the characters move forward in their lives, then the narrative moves forward at a pace equal to the characters emotional rebirth and growth. It becomes lively, and light in places, only to swoop downward at the first hint of returning troubles. Really, Grime and Punishment represents just a remarkable job of storytelling by the author.
I highly recommend this story and can’t wait for the next installment in the series. This is a great introduction for those of you new to Z.A. Maxfield. And for those of you already fond of this author, here is a new story of hers to love.