Hamarsson & Dempsey: Conspiracy Theory – Elle Keaton
Years of grueling police work have left Niall Hamarsson jaded and disillusioned with life…although it’s likely he’s been that way all along. The last straw lands when the DA refuses to try a case Niall worked for years to bring to justice. Within hours he finds himself heading to the only place he’s ever been able to call home—a place he knows he doesn’t belong.
Mat Dempsey returned to Piedras Island after his father’s death. These days he’s Island County’s sheriff. He’s happy enough, even if moving home from San Francisco effectively forced him back into the closet. Mat’s well-ordered universe collapses when a local’s body is discovered floating in the cold waters of Hidden Harbor’s marina. All hell breaks loose in the community, and accusations fly…all coinciding with Niall Hamarsson’s return.Niall and Mat have a history, and it’s not one Mat’s proud of. He owes Niall an apology, even if it means getting down on his knees. However, Mat’s first priority is investigating the murder before his community tears itself apart and he may have to ask the aloof Niall Hamarsson for help.
Push apart, pull together, yes or no… The chemistry crackles between them but will the two men be able to put aside their pasts and embrace a future?
Hamarsson & Dempsey is a promising police procedural by new to me author Elle Keaton. The series is set in Piedras Island where everybody had their noses in everybody else’s business. While it is reminiscent of many mystery series, the first book, Conspiracy Theory, held its own.
First, the mystery had me guessing until the end. I liked how the various threads and mini-mysteries relate to the main plot. The pacing was good but the resolution was just okay. It left some things open for the next books.
The book also had a strong cast of secondary characters. As with many small town mysteries, it had its fair share of interesting eccentric town fixtures that will either serve as future victims, future perps, comic relief or mere annoyance. Chief of these are the town’s prominent families who were notorious for their bitter feuds.
The two main characters couldn’t be more different from each other. Both were likable in their own way. The book is character-driven and the two leads were very compelling. Hamarsson in particular has a backstory that you make you feel for the guy.
Hamarsson is of Viking descent and is built like one. He is anti-social with a miserly way of speaking as though each word cost him money. He has a troubled childhood and is the first to admit he is a not a good person. But the man had a rarely seen caring side that appeared when he became Fenrir’s human. The total number of sentences he used to explain the dog’s presence equaled the total number of the rest of sentences he spoke in the entire book. That’s how much he liked the dog.
Dempsey is the town sheriff. He is a serial do-gooder who takes his responsibilities to the entire town very seriously. He’s a genial guy who loves his mom. He’s really easy to like. Early on, he knew there were hidden depths to Hamarsson that were worth taking the time to explore.
The two men had mutual crushes on each other back in high school. Now face to face as grown ups, the attraction is still there. I liked how the slow-burn romance was built-up. I liked how it worked with the police procedural aspect. I even liked the cliffy ending because it felt right for the kind of thing they had at that moment.
Overall, Conspiracy Theory is a great series opener. It has characters you can root for, a mystery that kept you turning the page and a tight plot that made you exciting for what’s coming next. Highly recommended for those into stories of big, taciturn men with giant hairy dogs and small island sheriffs who couldn’t stay away.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Unbreakable Bonds: Devour – Joclynn Drake & Rinda Elliott
Ian Pierce is the chef and part owner of the hottest restaurant in Cincinnati, his chosen family is full of happy relationships, and the scruffy, snarky cop who has been haunting his dreams is one step closer to being in his bed. But everything comes crashing down when the past he narrowly escaped nine years ago comes to a deadly head.
Hollis Banner was enamored of Ian at first sight. He’s kept his distance, knowing the gorgeous, self-confident man is out of his league. Yet there’s no standing aside when Boris Jagger escapes a raid. Jagger’s world has been nearly destroyed and this time, the crime boss is coming after Ian and his friends personally.
Hollis will do whatever it takes to keep Ian safe as they escape to a safe house with a couple of Ian’s overprotective friends. And Ian finds himself in a race to unlock painful memories—memories containing information that could take down the very last of Jagger’s illegal operations forever.
Trigger warning: Flashbacks to abuse could be possible triggers for some.
Unbreakable Bonds is centered around four men who have deep connections with each other. Lucas Vallois, the alpha and the center who holds everything together. Ashton ‘Snow’ Frost, dark and brooding, is a trauma surgeon and the one Lucas considers his brother. Rowan ‘Rowe’ Ward, laid back and goofy, they met him during basic military training. He is their warrior. Their heart is Ian Pierce, a talented chef. He’s adorable, the type you want to put in your pocket to keep safe. Well, I want to put them all in my pocket really. I love these guys! ♡
Devour is Ian fighting not to be consumed by his past.
Ian Pierce has many things in his past he’d rather forget but the ghosts are always lurking. His family has been badly hurt so it’s time once and for all to get rid of the monster who caused them so much pain. Ian has always been protected by Lucas, Snow and Rowe. This time he’s facing Boris Jagger head on.
Hollis Banner fell in love at first sight with Ian but was hesitant to make a move because he thinks the chef is out of his league. In the first book, Shiver, I wasn’t feeling Hollis. He showed up poking around and wasn’t doing anything much. Later on, he still kept showing up and slowly endeared himself to the group because everybody could see, he really cared about Ian. And he was willing to cross the line and sacrifice his career in order to save the kids Jagger abused. What I liked about him was that he knows a good thing when he sees it and stuck to it. The man waited for a year for Ian and accepted him,baggage and all. He deserved all the chocolate cakes in the world.
“Are you thinking about last night?” Hollis asked, his voice low and rumbly.
“How do you know I’m thinking about sex?”
“Because when you do, your eyes go dark, your lids do this sexy, hooded thing, and your mouth slightly parts. It’s hot as hell. You look hungry—like I’m made of chocolate. And everyone knows chocolate is the best thing.”
“Is that right?” Ian chuckled. “The best thing?”
“Chocolate is life.”
Devour is the most gut wrenching of the four books and comes with trigger warnings. They’re taking down Jagger and they had to cut off all his financial sources. Every painful memory came out in the open as Ian tried to remember important clues to the location of the victims based on the codes Hollis obtained. Jagger was also hitting them hard, killing a friend of Ian’s and making Lucas beg for the lives of Snow and Andrei.
Lucas finally threw down the gauntlet in his usual grandiose way. He challenged Jagger to come to him in the guise of announcing a huge charity party in a press conference. The climax had the millionaire fighting for his life but Ian and Hollis’ actual fight with Jagger happened quick. I’m glad they didn’t drag it out but I was kinda hoping for a little bit more.
My favorite scene was that intense moment where the Lucas, Snow, Rowe and Ian had a shouting match regarding how they got Ian from the criminal mastermind. Their boyfriends decided to leave them to it and went for drinks in the kitchen. And then, because Snow’s cat Sargeant was there, Hollis cracked the lamest cat joke ever.
“Do you know how cats keep law and order?” Hollis asked, unable to keep from grinning. “Claw enforcement.”
Of course Jude and Noah had to join in. Andrei’s having none of it…
“What’s wrong, Andrei?” Noah said with a wide grin. “Cat got your tongue?”
“This is a catastrophe,” Jude murmured.
“Hey Andrei,” Hollis drawled. “Knock, knock.”
“Fuck you.” (๑˃́ꇴ˂̀๑)
He and Lucas patched things up and the bodyguard point blank told his boyfriend to marry him. Lucas agreed.
Snow and Jude were on a permanent honeymoon.
Rowe and Noah did their best Rambo impressions. They were very impressive. Rowe laid out his wedding plans.
And Ian is already planning all their weddings. Hollis is moving in with him.
They all had the best Christmas dinner ever. ✩*⋆ ⍋*☪⋆⍋⋆*✩
Devour is a great ending to a fantastic arc. Like the other books, some plot points are weak but I don’t really care. The romance and group dynamics make it so much worth your while. The characters are definitely unforgettable. I’m glad we still have more stories because I rooted hard for Lucas, Snow, Rowe and Ian and I’m not ready to let go of this unbreakable family yet.
The Ward Security bodyguards have their own books. Yay!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Hostile Ground – L.A. Witt & Aleksandr Voinov
After the deaths of three undercover cops investigating a drug ring in a seedy strip club in Seattle, Detective Mahir Hussain has been sent to finish the job. He joins the club’s security team in the hopes of finding enough evidence to bust the operation before the men in charge find a reason to put him in a shallow grave.
To protect the strippers, only gay men can work the club. Ridley, the cold and intimidating head of security, knows exactly how to test potential new hires-including Mahir. From the minute they meet, Mahir and Ridley engage in a dangerous dance of sex and mind games. Mahir needs to find his evidence before Ridley figures out he’s a cop-and before they both grow too close to betray one another.
As the game goes on, Mahir burrows deeper into the operation, where he learns there’s much more happening than meets the eye . . . and why every cop who made it this far has been silenced with a bullet.
Two of my favorite authors collaborating in what promised to be explosive and intense. I know many people gave high ratings and loved it but this one falls between like and love for me.
There are many elements present that I have come to expect from LAW and Voinov so that might be one reason why some parts were predictable such as Kinza’s involvement, Ridley’s real name, what happened to the boys they used as couriers, etc. This was probably one of the few LAW stories where the surprises were not so surprising. What I was surprised with was that the connection between Mahir and Kinza was not utilized to the max. That was something the authors would normally do to up the ante. I thought Lombardi would recognize those gazelle eyes anywhere OR maybe he just thought all Middle Eastern people look the same. Still, he should have known, he was supposed to be astute. Also, there were too many sex scenes that didn’t do anything to the story and we can only hope Ridley’s office was sound proof what with all their conspiratorial talks and out of control moments in there.
Those niggles aside, I greatly enjoyed Hostile Ground. Mahir is a detective, assigned to an undercover mission in Lombardi’s strip club which was a front for something more sinister. Mahir who went by Saeed in this mission, is a muslim which makes him a target of racists jokes while his family grudgingly accepts the fact that he is gay. There were many derogatory terms in the story, so be warned but I liked the way Mahir handled these issues like a boss.
His nephew Kinza was recently outed which caused some conflict with his family. The boy ran away to live with Mahir, who was his favorite uncle. This couldn’t have come at the worst time, the detective was in the middle of his undercover work. Things got even more dangerous when the boy followed him to the club one day and was recruited by Lombardi. The interactions between Mahir and Kinza were some of the best parts of the story. Mahir adored his nephew and would do anything to keep him safe. He nearly panicked and blew the case when he saw his nephew walking inside the club but fortunately, Ridley talked some sense into him AND Kinza was awesome! Boy got nerves of steel. And super smart too! Where other boys would have broken down and panicked, he kept his head. He’ll make a great FBI agent one day.
Ridley is a man of many personalities. There’s the ice-cold psycho bastard, the man who made sure Mahir got home safe after making him inhale cocaine, the one who who can’t resist fucking the new recruit and more. The more time Mahir spends with the man, the more layers he uncover, even after the case was over.
The guy with the icy stare behind the dark sunglasses- he could shoot a cop and not blink. The one who’d left Mahir aching all over, and who had seemed just as unhappy as Mahir that they couldn’t continue things, wasn’t murderer. He couldn’t be. Could he?
Theirs was a romance between two men in a high stressed environment. It started with insta-lust where they used each other to blow off steam and it gradually evolved into something deeper, solid and more meaningful. The way the romance developed was convincingly executed and the authors happily provided an epilogue.
The case was a bitch to crack and the whole set-up reminded me of the HongKong movie, Infernal Affairs, where an undercover cop goes so deep he almost didn’t get out. Even though I knew what was coming, I could still feel the suspense. Every goon was keeping an eye on Ridley and Mahir, waiting for them to slip up. Lombardi got Kinza in his clutches. There’s more at stake than Mahir had bargained for. Things begin to escalate and then one day, the goons showed up at Mahir’s doorstep. Shit really hit the fan! Bullets flew, covers blown, and close calls that were too close as the story builds into to its heart-stopping climax. It was, overall, a fun ride with a satisfying conclusion. And although I want to keep them all safe, Mahir isn’t ready to retire just yet. As we speak, they’re preparing for another mission because as Ridley said
“I like it dangerous.”
So, a sequel please!
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Hazard and Somerset: Pretty Pretty Boys – Gregory Ashe
After Emery Hazard loses his job as a detective in Saint Louis, he heads back to his hometown–and to the local police force there. Home, though, brings no happy memories, and the ghosts of old pain are very much alive in Wahredua. Hazard’s new partner, John-Henry Somerset, had been one of the worst tormentors, and Hazard still wonders what Somerset’s role was in the death of Jeff Langham, Hazard’s first boyfriend.
When a severely burned body is discovered, Hazard finds himself drawn deeper into the case than he expects. Determining the identity of the dead man proves impossible, and solving the murder grows more and more unlikely. But as the city’s only gay police officer, Hazard is placed at the center of a growing battle between powerful political forces. To his surprise, Hazard finds an unlikely ally in his partner, the former bully. And as they spend more time together, something starts to happen between them, something that Hazard can’t–and doesn’t want–to explain.
The discovery of a second mutilated corpse, though, reveals clues that the two murders are linked, and as Hazard gets closer to answers, he uncovers a conspiracy of murder and betrayal that goes deeper–and closer to home–than he could ever expect.
I think this really couldn’t have worked.
You got a married man with a kid who cheated on his wife. CHEATED!! which is a total deal breaker for me. I don’t care if he was set up, he could always walk away no matter what honeyed trap was dangled in front of him. Also he’s a drunkard. A coward. And too good looking.
Then you have a surly, stubborn detective with zero people skills who rubbed everybody the wrong way. Who was bullied by said married man when they were in high school.
This is not your standard recipe for an MM romance. This sounds more like that dish best served cold but, with Gregory Ashe’s magic, makes for a truly engrossing enemies to lovers(?) story. Question mark because they were barely even friends at the end of the first book. This is as slow burn as it can get, as per other reviews, they didn’t become a couple until a few more books. Which is totally fine by me because I tend to complain about things going too fast anyway.
But how can you make a set-up that screams lose-lose work?
John-Henry Somerset pushed Emery Hazard down the stairs when they were in high school. He is now married to his HS sweetheart, albeit estranged because, as MM writers love to say, he was betrayed by his traitorous dick. Emery went back to his hometown to solve an old mystery of why his HS boyfriend committed suicide. Facing old bullies is painful and awkward and I feel for Hazard right there. To be fair to Somers, he knew he fucked up and he really did try to make it up to Hazard. Somers is the type of person who wants to be liked by everybody so of course he practically begged Hazard to like him.
Hazard and Somers’ interactions go from
“You touch me again,… you shake my hand, you grab my sleeve, you so much as bump me in the mother-fucking hallway, and I will kill you. Do you understand me?“
to Somers’s smiled his normal frat-boy smile. “So,” he said, drawing out the word. “You like me?” “God, you’re a fucking moron.”
to “Just like fucking high school“
Always with a smattering of USTs bubbling just below the surface. The chemistry is fantastic! I don’t even actively like these two men but yeah, go for that second chance!
USTs are all good but they can only take you so far. What really made this stood out is how well the author fleshed out the complicated and not necessarily romance-related relationships between these flawed, complex characters in a way that just draws you into them. Many times I want to smack them in the head. Sometimes I feel sorry for them. Once in a while I could say they’re OK. There were no neatly tied conclusions. Things will continue to remain awkward and unresolved for a while.
Nico deserves a mention. He was the grad school student who pursued Hazard and they were kind of cute together so I imagined a parallel universe called Nico & Hazard.
This book is really a murder mystery story. The detectives were working on a vandalism case and a homicide where one unidentified body was burned inside a trailer. Hazard, being Hazard, made himself a few enemies while Somers played the good cop, charming everybody with his megawatt smiles. The investigation introduced us to important personalities of Wahredua, among them, extremists at the polar opposites of the spectrum. Both were responsible for so much vitriol and trigger warnings. Their hate speeches could put off some readers but you can always skip these parts if it’s too disturbing. As for the mystery, it was obvious who the bad guy was but it was such a well-written book and well-narrated too (courtesy of Tristan James), I didn’t mind it. Then Hazard had to go be a distrustful fool and things went from pudding to poop real quick for him and Somers.
Apart from the obvious appeal of the MM romance angle, Pretty Pretty Boys has all the good stuff-of a great police procedural novel where there is a nice interplay between the police work and the personal issues, compelling main characters, tightly written prose and engaging storytelling that kept me glued to the book. It’s a solid start to an addicting series and I’m definitely excited to see how things will play out.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits