Title ~ Tracefinder: Contact (Tracefinder #1)
Author ~ Kaje Harper
Published ~ 9th January 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance, Crime, Paranormal
What could an undercover cop and a drug lord’s pet psychic have in common?
Brian Kerr has spent years hiding behind a facade of mental slowness. His brother and sister got all three of them off the streets and into a cushy life, under the protection of a dangerous criminal. But to keep that safety, Brian has to use his Finding talent to track down the boss’s enemies. Although he pretends not to know what he’s really doing, each Find takes its toll, and he’s trapped in a life he hates, losing touch with his true self.
Nick Rugo’s job is to protect and serve the people of Minneapolis as an undercover cop. He isn’t closeted, but he isn’t out at work, and there’s a wild, angry side to him that he’s managed to keep hidden until now. When he’s assigned to bring Brian’s boss to justice, he intends to use anything and anyone it takes to do that.
Nick initially sees Brian as a pawn to be played in his case, but he keeps getting glimpses of a different man behind the slow, simpleminded mask. As the two men get to know each other, it becomes clear they share secrets, some of which might get them both killed.
Kaje Harper is one of the top gay fiction authors around. And I must give her particular kudos for taking the kinds of risks, in “Tracefinder: Contact”, that few other authors would dare. The result is an incredible book, but one that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite satisfy.
Let me explain. This is, quite obviously, the first book in a new series. It’s not like any gay novel you’ve ever read. There’s romance, but it’s far from a typical gay romance. It’s an undercover-cop procedural and action-thriller with lots of excitement, danger and seriously evil villains. It features a cop with issues. Nick is a great cop, but one who wrestles daily with the anger that bubbles up within him. A product of the foster-care system, separated from his beloved sister when both were young kids, furious and guilty over the 17 years he’s not been able to find her, he tends to spend his nights in neighborhood bars, waiting for a justified fist-fight that will allow him to vent his frustrations on the bad guys.
He’s a gorgeous man who dresses to hide his attractiveness, a man who limits his sex life to occasional and rare one-night stands. He’s of modest height, but he’s got a great, sexy, wiry body that he uses for violence rather than love-making.
Nick is loaned to a joint task force between the Minneapolis PD and the DEA to get some dangerous new designer drugs off the street – drugs that are killing young people. His job: to infiltrate the organization that’s manufacturing and distributing these drugs from a huge base across the nation - from San Diego to Minneapolis, with stops in between and labs in the Southeast.
While he ingratiates himself with the lowlifes who form the backbone of this crime ring, mostly chugging beer and winning fights at the local dive bar, he meets a rather unusual family, three siblings who work with Vern Marston, the evil mastermind behind it all. The older brother is Damon, Marston’s most trusted muscle and enforcer; the sister is Lori, Marston’s new, young, pregnant wife; and, most intriguing of all is Brian or “Bry”, Lori’s twin.
“Bry” comes off as a severely mentally deficient young man. He’s 6’-2”, a bit overweight, with a pasty-white complexion and thin, almost-white hair. He also appears to suffer from a bad case of arrested development, speaking and acting like a 10-year-old. He can’t read or write, but every now and then, intelligence seems to radiate from his beautiful blue eyes. He also exudes innocence, kindness and gentleness, a radical contrast with the thugs who surround him and his family.
Nick is not in the closet, and he won’t lie about his sexual orientation, but neither does he advertise it. Yet, immediately upon meeting this huge child, he picks up a certain vibe, perhaps even a knowing flirtation.
At a certain point, Nick comes to realize that Brian is at least two people. He’s the ignorant, petulant child, but he also demonstrates a rare adult intelligence and insight, but only to him. And yes, he was flirting, which makes Nick feel extremely guilty at being aroused by this overgrown child. But a lot less guilty when he sees the self-aware and smart young man hiding from his environment and all the dangers surrounding him. “Bry”, the child personality, is the protective armor Brian wears. If he acts and thinks like a child, he’ll be invisible.
Ms. Harper takes a lot of chances with this fledgling series, and I applaud her for that. This is not a standard romance with two gorgeous, hot men finding one another. Brian is less than attractive, though Nick sees something truly beautiful and arousing about him. There’s not a heck of a lot of sex – most of the book is action and revelation, and though the sex is emotionally intense, it’s not entirely explicit or erotic. I like that. It leaves a lot of space to deal with plot and character development.
What really shakes things up is a very special talent that Brian has had since he was young. His mother was a heroin addict, more interested in her next fix than the poverty her children somehow survived. She would regularly go missing. Brian was the only one who could find her. He has the incredible psychic ability to locate people, even people he’s never met, by touching objects that they’ve owned and handled. That’s why Marston keeps him around, so he can find his enemies and those disloyal to him, which leaves Brian desperately avoiding thinking about what Marston does to the people he “Finds” for him. But he can also “Find” missing children and dangerous criminals evading the law. He’s grown tired of the bad stuff, even though he knows the only reason he has a roof over his head is because of the benefits he brings to the crime boss who shelters him. Ms. Harper wraps her main characters in a cloak of moral ambiguity – they’re not squeaky-clean. They’re flawed, but good guys in relation to how bad the bad guys are, and men who would be better, if circumstances allowed.
Ms. Harper makes the “Finding” process most dramatic. Brian can “Find” almost anyone, but it extracts a huge cost both physically and mentally. He is so wiped out after he’s “Found” someone that he often passes out, and sometimes doesn’t awaken for days. But he continues doing what he does to protect his sister and brother, no matter how much he longs to use his gift for good. Nick is the key to getting to a place where he can do good without getting killed or committed to an insane institution.
Like I said, this is not your regular gay romance novel. To be quite honest, Tracefinder: Contact would make a great bestselling police thriller in its own right, without the gay theme. So why not 5 stars? The book is beautifully written. The characters are incredibly rich and detailed, the dialogue (both internal and external) is letter-perfect and there’s a deep authenticity to the entire book. But the author ended it too soon. I know the books that follow will take Nick and Brian’s relationship and adventures further and further, but still, each book in a series deserves to have a reasonably satisfying ending, and this one doesn’t. The relationship between the two men is left up in the air, some characters who absconded are still in the wind, and Nick’s bosses still want to use Brian to lure them back to capture.
I want more. I was moved at so many points in this story, but not by the ending. It’s not so much a cliffhanger as a petering-out to leave enough runway to launch the next book. I’m not sure that’s at all fair to the reader, even from such a talented and masterful author as Kaje Harper.
Still, I must admit, I’m waiting with bated breath for the next one. So, despite my misgivings, I urge you to read “Tracefinder: Contact”. Just don’t expect a neat happily-ever-after with everything tied up in a nice neat bow. The reading experience is more than worth the time and effort you’ll invest in it and the books that will, I assume, follow. Think of this one as the introduction to a potentially killer new series, and you won’t be disappointed.
Meet Kage Harper
I live in Minnesota, where the two seasons are Snow-removal and Road-repair, the mosquito is the state bird, and where sometimes in winter it can be breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, the deepfreeze chill contributes to the breath-taking, but Minnesota's a kindly, quiet place and it's home to me now. I've been writing for far longer than I care to admit (*whispers - forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment, and currently am focused on M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, history, SciFi...) I also have a few Young Adult stories released under the pen name Kira Harp.
My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. My husband finally convinced me that after all that time writing, I really should submit something, somewhere. I was thrilled when it was accepted. I have a weakness for closeted cops with honest hearts, and teachers who speak their minds, and I had fun writing the four novels and three freebie short stories in the series. I've been just delighted by the reception Mac and Tony have received.
My first free book became the first story that I actually released - I put it up a month before Life Lessons just for the fun of getting it out there. Lies and Consequences began as a reaction to the November 2010 election. It looked like the repeal of DADT might be derailed by the political shift and I put the insanity of that law into the book. Then as I was finishing the first draft in mid-December the repeal passed. Which was great, but prompted a rewrite to a lighter and more action/romance book. This was a solo effort and I learned a lot from writing and releasing it and from the reviews. Check Smashwords for that one and many of my other freebies.
I now have a decent backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published. A complete list with links can be found on my Books page. This writing thing is addictive. So read, comment, tell me what you like and what you don't, and help me make the upcoming books even better.
You can find me to chat on my author page here on Goodreads most easily - I hang out on Goodreads a lot because I moderate the Goodreads YA LGBT Books group there. I also post free short YA stories on that group, more than 50 of them so far.