CBR14Bingo – Star: Julien’s the sort of actor who’s mostly recognizable, but his glory days seem to be behind him.
I deeply loved the Big Bad Wolf series, so while I was happy to see Cooper and Oliver finally get their HEA I was sad to say goodbye to the world. Well, luckily we have a new spinoff series starring Eli. While he was a character in past books (and there’s more cameos as well), I’d say you could pick this up as a standalone, though seriously, go read the other series!
“It seemed absurd, a monster going monster hunting. But why not? Just for a couple of days. What could possibly go wrong?”
With Oliver and Cooper away on their honeymoon, Eli’s been given the task of getting the retreat for wolves escaping from rebel packs up and running. It’s a big job and the last thing he wants to do is screw it up for them. But between someone making trouble at the ski resort over the hill and a snooping actor, proving that he can take on this responsibility may be harder than he thought. That actor, Julien, is in Maudit Falls chasing a cryptic clue from his dead brother, and while the other goings-on don’t seem connected, he’ll do anything that gives him more information about his brother’s last days. When pranks turn to murders, the unlikely team of Eli and Julien are drawn into the investigation. Will they catch the murderer before they catch them?
“Talk about a backfire. Last month the most abnormal thing grief had me doing was drinking an extra couple glasses of wine at night. Now I’m running around after cryptozoologists and digging up skeletons and—and—having vacation sex with strangers.”
“On the other hand, who are we to question the process,” Eli drawled, surprising a real laugh out of Julien.”
It was strange in some ways to have both POVs after being used to only having Cooper’s POV in the last series. I think it does increase the dramatic tension: both men are fascinated and wary of the other, and both have plenty of secrets they’d prefer to keep hidden. Where Cooper had some (mostly erroneous) knowledge of werewolves, Julien’s only knowledge comes from his younger brother. He was obsessed with hunting down cryptids in various locations, something that had gotten him into mundane trouble (trespassing on a drug gang’s land, etc) that Julien had to bail him out of more times than he could count. A somewhat has-been actor, he’s still grieving his brother’s loss, though he’s skilled enough to put on a mask to most people – but not Eli.
“I have nothing to hide.”
“Neither do I,” Eli purred. “Look at us. Two open books.”
“Sure. Except yours is written in code. And invisible ink. And has one of those paper snakes that pop out and scare the shit out of anyone who picks you up.”
Eli made that odd huffing sound again. “I assure you, Mr. Doran, I’ve never received a single complaint from those blessed enough to pick me up.”
Eli’s completely over the top in the best way possible. He’s snarky and sly, a shameless flirt – but underneath that mask, he’s afraid that once anyone knows all of his secrets, they’ll abandon him. He’s not proud of his past and quite frankly calls himself a monster more than once. Both men have secrets, and both have scars from past trauma. Watching them open up bit by bit, trusting each other enough to be vulnerable, was amazing. They’re not fully truthful – this is, after all, only the first book in the series! – but there was enough of a crack in both of their facades to truly connect with each other. The sex scenes were amazing, mostly because of the dynamic between them – dominant Julien who’s new to this and very anxious about doing it well, and Eli, who, well, is Eli. While Julien’s bi, due to two marriages to cis women (and the subsequent divorces) he doesn’t have much experience with men – make that any experience. Of course, he doesn’t explain this to Eli beforehand, and that’s just one of the many misunderstandings between them. While either man may react strongly initially, they’re also both mature enough to talk things out.
“Solving murders isn’t in the job description, is it?”
“With Ollie and the whippet? It should be,” Eli muttered.”
And that talking is one of the best parts of the book. As I’ve come to expect from Charlie Adhara’s books, the dialogue is crackling and hilarious. Eli in particular is outrageous, even in his own head – he repeatedly refers to Cooper as “Ollie’s whippet” and I lost it every time. It would also not be a Charlie Adhara book without a tense suspense plot as well. It’s got bits of a house party mystery (a small number of guests snowed in) and revelations of past friendships and greed and well, you get the picture. It was delightfully twisty and kept me guessing til the end. There’s also a good deal of new world building, from Sweet Pea the local cryptid to more revelations about how rebel packs work from Eli’s past. As for cons, It’s slowly paced and it took quite a while to really get the mystery going, though the chemistry between Julien and Eli was evident from their first meeting. But even with that, I didn’t identify as strongly with either man as I did with Cooper. Perhaps it was the dual POV or the fact that neither held a candle to Cooper’s anxious do-gooderness, but I still enjoyed the book.
Overall, an excellent start to a new series that leaves plenty of interesting leads to follow up on!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.