Review: A Casual Weekend Thing by A.J. Thomas

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

A Casual Weekend ThingDoug Heavy Runner is the only member of the Baker County Sheriff’s Department that is also a member of the volunteer search and rescue team operating in his section of Montana.  So it is no surprise when a 911 call results in Doug hanging over the edge of a cliff, hauling up a body caught on ropes below him. The man is an apparent suicide but his suicide note and death will draw his younger brother to town, along with complications and clues that point to a criminal operating in town, something Doug Heavy Runner left Miami PD to get away from.  Doug lived an out lifestyle in Miami, but the undercover work and an abusive boyfriend sent him home to Elkin and life as a small town deputy and closeted gay.  Now one death may unravel Doug’s new life.

San Diego PD Detective Christopher Hayes is still trying to recover from a devastating gunshot wound that threatens to end his career when he gets a call from a small town coroner in Montana.  His older brother has committed suicide and Chris needs to identify the body and see to his brother’s estate.  The problem is that Chris hasn’t seen his brother in over 20 years by choice as his brother was a convicted pedophile who Chris thought was still in jail.

On the way to Elkin to attend to his brother’s remains, Chris stops in to a local gay bar,  hooks up with a Native American cop and a hot weekend of sex ensues.  Imagine both mens surprise when the suicide’s brother turns out to be Chris and the deputy in charge of the case is none other than his weekend hookup, Doug Heavy Runner.  When Chris’ brother’s house is burned to the ground and the cause is arson, all clues lead to another pedophile operating in the area.  The deeper they probe into the brother’s life, the wider the scope of the investigation.  Soon the FBI is involved and Chris’ partner from San Diego shows up, and everyone is second guessing themselves and each other as the case folds back to Elkin and its citizens. And all the while, Chris and Doug’s casual fling deepens and turns into something neither expects or can accept – love.

I was not expecting a book as complex and moving from the title, A Casual Weekend Thing.  A.J. Thomas has written a book with so many layers to it that I was continually amazed with each reveal and new element  she added to the overall picture.  This book is a police mystery, a cop romance, a character study, and just a grand read.

At the core of A Casual Weekend Thing are two damaged men, each a gay police officer whose back history has made them who they are today, two driven individuals who run from commitment and any relationship other than friendship or casual hookups.  Each is a runner, one by name and one by emotional need, a clever turn by the author.  Christopher Hayes is an ultrarunner, a rare breed of runner who pit their endurance against distances from 50 to 100 mile runs in extreme weather conditions.  Chris was told by his abusive brother to run for his life when he was 12 and run he did, never looking back.  Chris is still running, from his past, from his tenuous future on the force, and from all relationships, never fully trusting anyone.  In Christopher Hayes, Thomas has created an emotionally damaged man, who thinks he has coped with his past but in reality is in denial.  It is a wonderful characterization, multidimensional and realistic in every respect.

Doug Heavy Runner is Chris’ equal in complexity and pain.  In Doug, Thomas gives the reader a man who ran from his culture, that of a Salish-Kootenai Indian on a reservation where crime, poverty, and despair rule and very few escape.  Doug fled to Miami, to become a police officer and live an openly gay lifestyle, passing as a latino.  But the undercover work and abusive boyfriend combined to break him down until his path led him home to the reservation and the small town nearby.  Doug is running just like Chris, too afraid to trust himself in a relationship or to come out to the community.  Thomas balances these two men against each other’s past history even as the author starts them on the investigation that will hit close to home for both men.  Thomas manages to create not two but multiple realistic characters, including Chris’ partner, Ray, a man who was supposedly “straight” until he wasn’t, to Chris’ surprise.  Not once did I feel that any of these characters strayed into a less than authentic portrayal of a real person.  Some were repulsive, some sympathetic, and others incompetent, but always real.

Great characters were certainly a necessity given the complex, and densely layered plots that play out in this story.  Thomas takes the time to set up the situations for the events that follow.  It is a slow build that pulls in element after element, revealed to Chris, Doug and the reader in small increments.  As more facts are unearthed, a feeling of unease sets in.  Then we discover the truth of Chris’ relationship with his late brother, and the horror arrives.  That he treats it so unemotionally makes it worse.  The more clues are discovered, the more horrific and wider the investigation becomes, pulling in the FBI and Chris’ partner.  Thomas does a superlative job in creating a monstrous psychopath who eludes identification until close to the end.  And intertwined with this investigation, is the romance between Chris and Doug, a tenuous thing given each man’s trust issues and past history.

I have to admit I came so close to giving this story 5 stars.  I really wanted to.  But there were a few minor issues with police procedure as well as some actions on the part of Chris that had me shaking my head in incredulity.  I just don’t think a police officer of his experience and background would have committed the errors he did, given the clues he had at his finger tips.  I can’t say any more but when you read the book, you will recognize the areas I am talking about.  That, combined with a little rough transition at the beginning, kept A Casual Weekend Thing from being perfect.  But it sure came close.  It hooked me right from the beginning and keep me on the edge of the bed (so to speak) until the last page.

The end leaves us with a very realistic HFN and I think it needed it.  A HEA for Doug and Chris, considering the events they just emerged from would be just implausible and not in keeping with the characters Thomas was so careful in creating.  I can hope, however, that this will set them up to return in a future novel with another case to solve together.  Now that would be perfection.  Consider this book highly recommended.  I can’t wait to see what A.J. Thomas has for us next.

Cover Art by Brooke Albrecht.  I applaud the cover artist’s choice of model, although he looks far more Indian than Native American.  Also the woods below aren’t really in keeping with the landscape around that area of Montana.  I know, that’s really getting picky, isn’t it.  But they get the tone of the book right.

Book Details:

ebook, 310 pages
Published May 13th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623804876 (ISBN13: 9781623804879)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3806

Review: Eye of the Beholder (Winterfield series) by Edward Kendrick

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Review:          3.5 stars

Eye of the BeholderPreston Davison and his friend Cary Fielding were friends in high school and then their lives took two wildly different paths.  Cary went off to college and Preston went on to become ‘The Sergeant’, a minor star in gay pornographic movies. The two kept in touch and it was Cary who finally gave Preston the push to leave the adult film company he was working for and try to start over.  But on the very night Preston quits his job, he is brutally attacked and his face destroyed by an unknown assailant.  Now afraid to go outside with his “monster” of a face, Preston lives with his friend the nurse who treated him and starts working on his own web design company, secure in the fact he will never have to meet any clients face to face. But one of his new clients has a very familiar name and soon Preston is writing to his old friend under a pen name.

Cary lives with his boyfriend, Hugh, and has tried to move on with his life after failing to find his friend after the attack.  But memories of Preston won’t go away.  Then one day, Cary’s firm decides it needs a new  website.  The designer Cary chooses only conducts their meetings online and corresponds only with email.  But something about the way this person “talks” feels so familiar to Cary….

Can Preston overcome his fears and tell Cary who he is? Unbeknownst to Cary and Preston, the person who ruined Pres’ face is still around and waiting for his chance to strike once more.  What will win out?  Fear or love?  Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder?

I really liked this story and wavered in assigning a rating.  The true strength of this story is the character of Preston Davison, the ex porn star disfigured by a gruesome attack.  The attack happens “off stage” so we jump immediately to the aftermath and it’s devastating effect upon Preston and his life.  We are there as Preston grapples with the remnants of a face that once was beautiful and the lack of a career to land on.  I actually wished there was more of this section of the story.  What Kendrick gives us as Pres starts to pull whats left of his life together is so realistic, so heart wrenching, especially a scene in a part with a little boy, that I wanted more of his recovery.  And I wanted the payoff promised by the interaction with the young boy (more about this later). Pres is helped by his “Tabby Cat”, the nurse who cared for him in the hospital and became his friend.  I loved that character too.  Tabitha is a lovely creation, and I really enjoyed every part of her friendship with Preston.  This part of the story is a solid 4 star rating.

It’s when we turn to the other characters and elements of the story that the rating starts to waver downward.  Cary is a less substantial figure here with respect to Preston.  Cary’s present relationship is not fulfilling but he stays in it more out of habit than anything else.  I could wish for a more  forceful or lively presence here but Cary comes across as just too passive a character for this to work as well as the author had hoped.  The other part of the story that didn’t work as well for me was that the attacker was easily identifiable early on in the story. And although this didn’t really bother me,  the resolution at the end came far too easily for everyone concerned. No big denouement, no great dramatic”aha”, so it didn’t ring true considering the heinous nature of the attacks on Preston. Given the strength of the first part of this story, the last half just sort of petered out.

I did notice that this story seems to be the beginning of a series titled Winterfield which is the town they all live in so I am hoping that the boy and his brother will figure in one of the books to come.  Really, that was such a tantalizing scene and its promise has stayed with me all through the rest of the story as I kept hoping the boy would make a reappearance.  So I am still going to recommend this book with reservations.  Forget about the suspense tag and look at it as more of a romance.  I am hoping the stories that come will fill in the narrative I feel is lacking here.  Let me know what you think?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Cover by Reese Dante is nice but really doesn’t speak to the story.

The Fireman and The Cop (Ellery Mountain #1) by R.J. Scott

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Rating: 4 stars

The Fireman and The CopWhen fireman Max Harrison moves to Ellery  to work as the assistant to the Mayor, he still volunteers as a fireman for the town.  So when the local police department’s building catches on fire, all his instincts kick in and he races into the building to  rescue the last man inside.  Max finds Finn Ryan, one of the three police officers to serve the small town of Ellery.  Even injured, Finn finds the fireman attractive.  An attraction that is returned by Max who is eager to pursue a relationship with the young cop.

But the fire turns out to be arson, and its target is Finn.  With Finn at the center of the arson investigation, Max races to find the person responsible before Finn  falls victim again and all hope for love perish in the flames.

Double the fun, double the hotness as R.J. Scott begins a new series with a fireman and a cop at the center of the story.  Max Harrison is the older and more experienced of the two men in every aspect.  He has sought out the quiet town of Ellery to escape the worst city life can offer.  And almost immediately he finds Finn Ryan, local cop who grew up in Ellery and has deep roots on the mountain.

This book establishes many of the characters that I suspect will meet over the series of books to come and the author does a wonderful job of sorting out all the people and their relationship to each other.  Scott never lets me down in her character development as Max and Finn are believable as well as endearing, especially Max.  I look forward to more of this couple in the stories to come.

At 78 pages, however, I found this story to be a little to short to throughly explore all the elements of this story.  I would love more background on Max, and the identity of the arsonist just kind of popped up out of nowhere.  But the vivid descriptions of the crackling fire and the out of control blazes just intensify the drama and the anxiety the reader feels every time our main characters are in danger.  The romance is sweet, and the potential for more to come makes us eagerly anticipate the next book in the series.

The Fireman and The Cop is being published by Total-E-Bound Publishing .

Cover Art by Posh Gosh.  I love the landscape at the bottom, the fonts are terrific and easy to read.  I only wished the models had stuck a tad closer to the characters within.  One is far too young to be Max, although those suspenders are very hot.