Title ~ Murder and Mayhem (Murder and Mayhem book #1)
Author ~ Rhys Ford
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 5th June 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Dead women tell no tales.
Former cat burglar Rook Stevens stole many a priceless thing in the past, but he’s never been accused of taking a life—until now. It was one thing to find a former associate inside Potter’s Field, his pop culture memorabilia shop, but quite another to stumble across her dead body.
Detective Dante Montoya thought he’d never see Rook Stevens again—not after his former partner’d falsified evidence to entrap the jewelry thief and Stevens walked off scot-free. So when he tackled a fleeing murder suspect, Dante was shocked to discover the blood-covered man was none other than the thief he’d fought to put in prison and who still made his blood sing.
Rook is determined to shake loose the murder charge against him, even if it means putting distance between him and the rugged Cuban-Mexican detective who brought him down. If one dead con artist wasn’t bad enough, others soon follow, and as the bodies pile up around Rook’s feet, he’s forced to reach out to the last man he’d expect to believe in his innocence—and the only man who’s ever gotten under Rook’s skin.
Rhys Ford is nothing less than amazing. I’ve been a fan of hers from the very first time I picked up one of her books. That appreciation, that admiration just keeps growing with each subsequent title.
In each book, she introduces us to a large cast of unique, vivid and touching characters, settings and over-the-top action, adventure and humor. Murder and Mayhem is a fast-paced, rollicking ride from start to finish, peopled with characters you quickly come to believe in and care about. Ms. Ford is one of that rare pantheon of writers who manages to combine, color, pathos, humor and action in every book she writes, and blend them elegantly, seamlessly, and apparently, effortlessly.
The book opens in the middle of the action. Rook Stevens, a former celebrated con-artist who’s gone straight, unlocks the door to his high-end movie memorabilia and collectible kitsch store, only to find a dead body in the middle of his showroom floor. Bending to the corpse, he realizes that he knows her and doesn’t much like her. She was not a good person. He also gets her blood on him. Oh my, you know exactly how that works: he just became the prime suspect – recently-dead body in his shop, the victim, a former adversary, and he’s covered in her blood.
The next thing he knows, a small army of men uniformed in black, from head to toe, is pouring through the front window, guns blazing and bullets whizzing by his head. He runs out the back door, through the alley, moving as fast as he can to escape the army trying to kill him, when he’s tackled, driven to the ground by a huge man, zip ties already circling his wrists. He sees the gun and badge, so he’s not so worried about getting killed right now, but then he discovers that his worst nightmare has become all too real.
The man on top of him, the man holding him at gunpoint is Detective Dante Montoya, the man who most wants him dead or in prison for life. This is not his first meeting with the hot detective. The last time Montoya took him down, Rook escaped prosecution because Dante’s partner (and mentor) manufactured evidence to convict Rook, and got caught at it. All charges were dropped, Vince (the older detective) was fired in disgrace, and died soon after. So Dante wants Rook bad. He wasn’t going to let this carney kid ruin his life again, no way. He was going to nail him this time. And therein lies the rub – that despite his distaste for the ridiculously successful con man and thief, he really did want to nail him, and not as a cop, but as a man who continues to be obsessed with this hot, handsome young thief.
But Montoya’s got a problem too. Rook really has gone “straight” and is making a small fortune from rich, obsessed memorabilia collectors out of his very successful shop. Unfortunately, the cops made a total mess of his showroom, and not just because of the dead body on the floor, but because the young cop who took the first shot into the darkened interior swore he saw someone inside raising a gun. The person he saw inside? An eight-foot tall Chewbacca statue that is now all shot to hell. Boy is this trigger-happy cop in a world of hurt. He led an armed assault on a furry statue before they even knew anyone was dead inside, and in the process, destroyed tens of thousands of dollars of valuable merchandise and display cabinets – not to mention almost killed Rook Stevens. Yes, the police department considered Rook a very bad guy, but murdering an unarmed suspect who is legally on his own premises, with Chewbacca as an excuse, is not a very good thing for one’s career.
Neither is Dante’s pathetic attempt at questioning Rook. After all, Rook was raised in the carnival. Brought there and abandoned when his mother ran off with the first hot guy she could find, Rook became a child of the carney. He could read a mark from a mile away. Trick Rook into a confession? Isn’t going to happen. Not in this lifetime.
But even that doesn’t matter, as a whole team of top-flight lawyers shows up at the precinct and springs him within minutes. Whoever paid for the high-priced representation apparently has a lot of clout, because they’ve got everybody from the Mayor on down demanding Rook’s release. What the hell is going on here?
Rook thinks it’s time to book, run away and hide from the murder rap – for a murder he didn’t commit – but his assistant, Charlene, a bimbo, but a loyal one, convinces him to stay and fight the bastards. So he does, catching a cab to his grandfather’s house. He needs a place to stay, but can’t go back to his apartment, because it’s the floor above his shop, and it’s all now a crime scene.
The next day, when Dante and his partner arrive at Rook’s new temporary address to question him further, they can’t believe their eyes. There must be some mistake. The address is a castle, one of the biggest, richest mansions in Hollywood, which appears to inhabit its own private park. This can’t be the right address. They knock on the door, ask for Rook, they’re asked for their IDs, and once invited in, confront a cantankerous 80-something-year-old man with a nasty disposition and an air of pure power. He asks: “what do you want with my grandson?”
And the book is off-and-running. Rook didn’t know his grandfather until he went straight. Some functionary contacted him, and the two met for the first time. Turns out his mother had run away from the old billionaire’s stifling, disapproving presence, to find herself. No one knows what she found, but she definitely lost Rook along the way.
You’ll have to read the book to appreciate the incredible badinage between the two men. Grandpa (Archibald Rook) is constantly demanding his way, threatening to write everyone out of his will, moaning and complaining as only the very old and rich can do. But he gets on really well with Rook, because Rook’s reaction is always “go stuff it, grandpa” and “you don’t have anything I want, so keep your damned will”. In fact, Grandpa has come to treasure his spirited grandson, as one of the only members of his family not running around kissing his butt, waiting for him to die, so they can their hands on his money. There is a beautiful and poignant undercurrent running through the book of two independent men who respect each other for the sheer force of their wills, and grow to realize that they really do care, deeply, about one another. Rook finally has family, even if he is an old curmudgeon, and Grandpa finally has family, even if he despairs of his favorite (though gay) grandson ever producing an heir. Of course, there is always surrogacy. This conflict provides fertile ground for an ongoing battle between the two men always at each other’s throats, but always having each other’s backs.
Two things happen that occupy most of the book. The first is the mystery, as Rook and Dante team up to find the killer who’s leaving bodies all over town. The second is Dante and Rook falling, inevitably, deeply in love.
And what a journey both things are, from mortal enemies to dedicated lovers, from suspected killer to potential victim. You’ll wonder who the villain is, up until the very last pages, when all the other red-herrings have either been killed or alibied out. Both the mystery and the love story are wonderful fun.
Rhys Ford is nothing but brilliant with characters. She reminds me, so much, of another of my favorite authors, Alexa Land. Though they write very different books and characters, they both create the most colorful, yet believable and empathetic, characters who just grab you by the heart and don’t let go. Dante, Rook and Grandpa are three of those. Add in a whole regiment of carney-types and grifters of all persuasions and talents, and you’re almost overwhelmed by the sheer creativity of Rhys Ford’s world. You really don’t want the book to end, her world to go away, the vivid colors to return to shades of grey.
Murder and Mayhem has it all - beautiful writing, rich, deeply-rendered, evocative characters, colorful settings exquisitely described, action, murder, mayhem, carney, developing romantic and family love and, to top it all off, the cherry on the sundae, lots of irony and occasional side-splitting humor. There is just nothing left to ask for. Ms. Ford delivers the whole package, every single time. This is the work of a master.
Though the plot and action will not change your life (let’s face it, it’s all escapism, isn’t it?), Ms. Ford will give you a few hours of marvelous and beautiful travel through her incredible imagination, a bunch of laughs and even a tear or two.
Don’t miss this book. Murder and Mayhem is nothing, if not a near-perfect reading experience, a pleasure for the soul and the heart.
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