Desert Isle Keeper
Blue on Blue
Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the Bitter Legacy series in this review.
Lately, my favorite books are contemporary, queer, and full of romantic suspense. And very few authors do this as well as Dal Maclean. The Bitter Legacy novels are smart and clever, chock full of twists and turns that keep you guessing well into the final pages, and the romantic relationships (be still my heart) keep readers on tenterhooks until the bitter end. (See what I did there?) Blue on Blue picks up around nine months after Object of Desire. Tom and Will are a couple (yay!), but sharing their lives isn’t quite as easy as Will hoped (oh no). Blue on Blue kicks off with Will worried about his home life, and frustrated by a case with no easy answers.
A quick refresher: In Object of Desire, Tom Gray, a famous male model, was accused of harassing and then murdering his lover’s estranged wife. To prove his innocence, his legal team hired Will Foster, a former detective inspector who now works as a private investigator, to help them find the true killer. But Will and Tom already knew each other; two years earlier they were in a committed relationship – a first for Tom, who’s pathologically afraid of commitment. When Will admitted he was in love with him, Tom dumped him by sending him a text of an x-rated picture of him with another man. So there’s that. Their new partnership gets off to an awkward start, but by the end of the novel, the two are reconciled. Will, who during the course of the investigation became friends with Detective Sergeant James Henderson (the protagonist in Bitter Legacy), is mulling a return to the force.
When Blue on Blue begins, Will, recently returned to the Met as a Detective Inspector, and Tom are living together. Tom has returned to university to finish his degree in forensic science while continuing to model part time; Will works with Jamie at the Met, and the two couples (Jamie and Ben/Will and Tom) are friends outside the office, too. It seems like Will has it all – the job he loves, and the man he’s loved almost since the moment they first met. But appearances are deceiving. Will still feels guilty about the death of an officer under his command and blames himself for the events leading up to his murder, and Tom’s new friendship with a fellow model while away on a shoot, has him wondering if Tom’s attention is wandering once again. Just as this maelstrom of self-doubt and recrimination nears a crescendo – he’s surprised by Tom’s early return to London with his new ‘friend’ in tow, and Will’s team is drawn into a dangerous murder investigation.
Okay, look. I’m going to tell you the basics about this case and then that’s pretty much it. Like all Dal Maclean’s novels (which I’m assuming you’ve read if you made it this far), Blue on Blue is chock full of suspects and… people who you worry might also be suspects? Sure, the bad guys are mostly just as bad as you’d extept, but the good guys… well, Dal keeps you on your toes. Again. The only people I 100% trusted in this book were Will and Jamie, and I recommend you follow my lead on this one.
When Will arrives at the crime scene in Soho, he finds his team working around the dead body of a woman, and a pile of vomit adjacent to the front door. The woman, most likely a sex worker, was killed execution style. It isn’t clear if she’s the one who vomited, or why a sex worker would be targeted for professional hit, and after a quick canvas of the building, Will’s left with more questions than answers. Further investigation leads them to a flat where their victim was living, and after a largely antagonistic back and forth with the victim’s devastated roommate, Will begins to believe there’s more to this crime than meets the eye. When his case links the victim to a jailed female serial killer (Ben’s mother), and to gangland boss Joey Clarkson – whom Will blames for the death of his fellow officer three years ago, Will realizes he’s uncovered a conspiracy that involves corruption within the highest levels of the Met. When his superior orders him to turn his investigation in a different direction, a suspicious Will isn’t sure he can trust her any longer. Will and Jamie find themselves in a desperate race to discover the truth behind the murder – and stay alive.
Meanwhile, as if his professional life isn’t difficult enough, Will is convinced Tom wants to end their relationship. Someone – he isn’t sure who – is sending him pictures that suggest Tom’s visitor is more than just a friend, and Tom’s acting guilty, too. Although their physical chemistry remains undiminished, there’s a new tension whenever they’re together. Will is happy with Tom; HE LOVES TOM!! But their previous break-up devastated him, and even when things between them have been going well, he worries commitment-phobic Tom will leave him again. So, instead of trying to talk to him about it (mumble because he’s a man mumble), he plans for the worst. AND WE DO, TOO. OH, MAN. Like the case that drives this novel, there are many surprises and twists ahead for Tom and Will, and I’m not going to spoil them for you here, except… I was so worried, I sent the author a direct message on Twitter begging her not to break these two up. Since Dal was kind enough to respond to my message, I’ll share her response with you, too: Bear in mind – my veins run with pure marshmallow.
Blue on Blue is hard to review without oversharing and ruining the many nasty and wonderful surprises lurking around its every dark corner. As usual, almost no one is above suspicion, and just when you think you have it figured out, the author proves you wrong. She brilliantly balances the crime with the romance, all the while juggling a massive cast of principal and secondary characters. Will is particularly well realized; Maclean masterfully reveals the all too human man behind his outwardly confident and capable persona. While my near obsessive focus was on the relationship between Will and Tom (who – much like Ben in Bitter Legacy, has matured into a character you root for), Will’s work friendships/partnerships are equally compelling. I loved the dynamic between Will and Jamie, and I hope we’ll see these two working together in future novels. They complement each other, and their investigation kept me glued to the pages. Oh reader, who am I kidding. This is a novel that shines on every level. It’s a gripping thriller/police procedural, and a gut-wrenching and tender romance. It’s sublime.
Friends, if you’re looking for a cozy mystery, Blue on Blue isn’t it. But if you’re looking for smart storytelling, a clever and gritty crime thriller, and a sexy romance featuring men who are fallible but trying to be and do better, that puts you through the wringer, then you should be reading Blue on Blue (and the Bitter Legacy series). It’s another DIK, and I highly recommend it.