Heat Factor: Blowjob reciprocity
Character Chemistry: The relationship development did not take a back seat to the suspense plot, so I feel like this worked well.
Plot: Smiley Face Killer drowns young men in Boston, bringing together the FBI agent handling the case and his former best friend/secret crush for the first time in 8 years
Overall: I was not bamboozled
I begin this review with the warning that my sister reminded me that I’m notoriously bad at suspending disbelief for the sake of books. In this case, I would argue (once again) that balancing all the components of a romantic suspense story is challenging, and this book is not super long, so it’s not as if there are scads of pages devoted to all of the things that are happening.
All of that said, this is a pretty good book. The crime was not obviously solvable, and it was engaging. The relationship between the protagonists fell into a second chance type mood – even though there was pining, not dating, when they were roommates – but without some of the angsty drama that makes me not always enjoy second chance stories. I also just really wanted to give Jefferson and Finny a hug. Separately. I’m glad they figured out they could get hugs from each other.
Bonus points for reference to “The General” by Dispatch, which I also listened to on repeat in college.
… I wish that I hadn’t felt like the plot was driving the construction of the narrative. There were several points where, as I read, I felt like other possible alternatives in identifying what was happening with the crime were being passed over in favor of the reasoning that would most support the plot. This started early on when Jefferson and his partner, Caroline, were questioning the latest victim’s friend and she just magically produced that he’d probably been murdered by the Smiley Face Killer. Did she see where the body was found? Was there already news media suggesting this? How did she get from “my friend died under suspicious circumstances” to “it was the Smiley Face Killer”?
Maybe the mythology of the Smiley Face Killer is very well known in New England? But I am not from New England, so…
Also, as an aside, I totally get why the Smiley Face Killer is called that, but it made me internally giggle a little bit every time because I was picturing something like this:
not like this (which is admittedly creepy af):
Moving on… I felt like the biggest place this single-minded dedication to the plot shone was in Caroline and Jefferson’s fight about the handling of the case as it related to Finny. One huge bone of contention between them is that Jefferson is too quick to write off Finny as a suspect because he’s emotionally susceptible due to their past history. I can’t disagree with this assessment, exactly, but honestly, I felt that Caroline was almost too attached to the idea of Finny being a suspect considering the fact that he lived in Philly for several years when the murders were occurring in Boston….
(“Well maybe he came back to Boston for those murders” 🤨 Really? He planned trips to Boston specifically to commit murders but didn’t do ANYTHING in Philly? This might have been supported with a stronger profile indicating that the killer is emotionally connected to Boston, but that doesn’t happen.)
…AND what about alibis?
(“But maybe he had a partner” 🙄 Seriously Caroline, where is your profile for all this suspicion you’re throwing out there? How does this partnership supposedly work and why is it so important to make these arguments where Finny is concerned but for literally no other person of interest? Stop making me feel like you’re clutching at straws. There are probably 20 other men who work in Finny’s office and fit his description and have never lived anywhere but Boston in their whole lives.)
My read on the way this developed was that the goal was 1. to cast suspicion on Finny in order to increase tension and more specifically to give Jefferson some turmoil, 2. to create tension between Jefferson and Caroline and 3. to isolate Jefferson while he’s feeling vulnerable about meeting Finny again after 8 years and while he’s fighting with Caroline. Goal met. If that’s what you’re looking for, look no further. My personal struggle as a reader boils down to: I didn’t buy in to the fight between Jefferson and Caroline because I never got over the fact that I thought they (both of them!) weren’t doing a very good job of…being professional criminal catchers. With any book with a mystery element, my hangup will always be: if I can see alternative avenues, then I expect that the protagonists should, too.
Perhaps my expectation for romantic suspense (though really I’d imagine for any book) is that I get so swept away by the story that I’m bamboozled into thinking that the characters have thought everything through even if they maybe haven’t. So, for me, while this book was well written, with an engaging story and a charming, just totally sweet romance between Jefferson and Finny, I wasn’t bamboozled.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
Looking for something similar?