Desert Isle Keeper
A Friend in the Dark
The first book in a projected series of four in the Arden & O’Callaghan Mysteries, A Friend in the Dark is an enjoyable introduction to our two quirky protagonists as well as an entertaining – if not especially complex – murder mystery. Gregory Ashe and C.S Poe kind of snuck up on us with this one – they announced their collaboration only a few weeks ago, but I certainly wasn’t going to complain; I’m a massive fan of Gregory Ashe’s work (which is a secret to exactly NO-ONE around here) and I’ve enjoyed books by Ms. Poe, so I was eager to see what they’d come up with together. The verdict? A thoroughly engrossing read.
The story opens as Rufus O’Callaghan discovers the dead body of Jake Brower – the detective for whom Rufus has acted as a confidential informant for a number of years – in the shower room in a set of abandoned offices. It’s clearly murder – Jake was shot in the middle of the forehead – but before Rufus can process much, he’s being shot at, too, and gets out as quickly as he can. He makes his way to Jake’s apartment to see if he can find what Jake wanted him to pick up in the first place and, filled with sadness at the memories of the only friend he’s really ever had, Rufus decides he owes it to Jake to at least find a scrap of information he can take to the NYPD to help find the murderer.
Sam Auden – a former army (and fuck) buddy of Jake’s – arrives in New York looking for answers. The email Jake sent him just two days before he died set all sorts of alarm bells ringing, and even though Jake’s death has, so far, been ruled a suicide, Sam knows there’s absolutely no way in hell Jake took his own life. His visit to Jake’s precinct yields little apart from a sneaking suspicion that something’s not right there, so he makes his way to Jake’s apartment – and is suspicious when he discovers the door is unlocked. He bursts into the room, gun at the ready – to find a skinny kid with a mop of red hair sitting in an armchair, calmly munching his way through a bag of chips.
The story follows Rufus and Sam over the next few days as they try to find out why Jake was killed, and land in a fair amount of hot water themselves. The mystery plot isn’t especially complicated, although it’s suspenseful and provides enough intrigue to propel the story forward; the real delight in this book is in getting to know the main characters, watching their interactions and their relationship grow as they start to work out what makes the other tick and start to trust one another. These guys are complex and damaged (even by normal Gregory Ashe standards!) – opposites in some ways, alike in others, and I adored both of them.
Rufus isn’t a kid at all; he’s in his early thirties and has clearly had a tough life, which he doesn’t talk about it much – if at all – and he’s prone to panic attacks. There’s clearly a lot going on beneath that snarky, street-smart surface, and we barely scratch it in this book. He’s tough, sharp, and resourceful; he clearly cared about Jake and Jake looked out for him, the only person in Rufus’ life ever to have shown him any affection or thought he was worth a damn.
Sam is a big, tough ex-army guy who had a relationship – of sorts – with Jake years earlier that he was clearly more invested in than Jake was. Sam is a complex mixture of traits; he’s brutally honest and says whatever he’s thinking, which can give the impression he’s a blunt instrument who lacks subtlety, but he’s also perceptive and observant, and quickly learns when to push Rufus and when to leave him alone. He’s got a very dry sense of humour – which is a good foil for Rufus’ brand of snark – and although displays a rather laid back attitude at times, he’s also prone to anxiety, albeit for different reasons; he doesn’t like crowds and lots of noise, so being in New York is akin to torture for him.
Their investigation takes them through various NYC locations – including the subway (which is more torture for Sam!) – and the settings are described vividly and in such a way as to put the reader right there with the characters. The story moves at a fast pace which aptly reflects the hustle and bustle of the city, but the authors don’t stint on the character and relationship development; this is a steamy-slow burn, but – a word of caution – don’t expect an HEA in this book. The case is wrapped up and the murder solved, but in terms of where Rufus and Sam go from here… be prepared for that to be continued.
I was really interested in what the authors had to say about their writing process, as I think it differs to the way many authors collaborate. I suspect the most common practice is for the authors to write alternating PoV chapters, but in this book, while the PoV does alternate, Mr. Ashe and Ms. Poe wrote via Google Doc and were, I gather, each pitching in at various times so it’s a pretty cohesive effort. They did say which of them wrote which character, but I’m not going to tell – if you don’t already know, I’ll let you work it out for yourselves! My one quibble really is that the secondary characters seem more peripheral and less well-developed than in other books by Gregory Ashe (specifically – I’ve read his work most recently so the comparison is easier to make), but I did appreciate the firm focus on the two leads.
Funny, sexy and intensely readable, with a pair of captivating protagonists and enough banter to satisfy my snark-loving heart, A Friend in the Dark is a terrific introduction to the Auden & O’Callaghan Mysteries and I’m eagerly looking forward to book two.