Broadway Butchery
Grade : A

Detectives Everett Larkin and Ira Doyle are back in the third Memento Mori book, Broadway Butchery. Like its predecessors, it’s a compelling and thoroughly engrossing read; a wonderful combination of gorgeous slow-burn romance and clever, tightly-plotted mystery that begins with Larkin, the star detective of the NYPD’s Cold Case Squad, once again called to a very unusual crime scene.

As this is a same-couple in which the central relationship develops across several books, Broadway Butchery doesn’t really stand alone and readers should start with book one, Madison Square Murders. There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.

The unusual crime scene on this occasion is a dingy store on Broadway selling tacky NYC souvenirs, where some mummified human remains have been found behind a piece of drywall that’s been knocked out during renovations. As it turns out though, the souvenir store is just a front for a prostitution ‘business’ and the store owner had in fact been having another booth built so his 'girls' can service more clients. When confronted about this, the owner (unsurprisingly) gets very defensive and insists that what is actually going on is restoration – the building used to be home to the Dirty Dollhouse, a live-sex peep-show that was closed down in 1989 – so all he was doing was restoring the booths that were already there.

Whoever the victim was was most likely female and, Larkin surmises, was either the victim of an overdose or of sexually-motivated violence. The single piece of filthy, gauzy-looking fabric wrapped around her neck suggests possible strangulation – but given ever other item of clothing – including her shoes – was removed, why do that and then leave what could be the murder weapon behind? It’s a puzzle.

When Larkin returns home to the apartment he now shares with Doyle, it’s to find a small cardboard box outside the door, with his name and address clearly marked on the outside. What isn’t there, however, is a return address or any indication of its being sent via mail or courier company. When he opens the box, it’s to find an old VHS tape with the words

Watch me, Detective Larkin!”

written on the label. The similarities of the instruction to those found on the photograph of the dead girl in the subway (Subway Slayings“Deliver me to Detective Larkin”) immediately suggests a connection with the Niedermann case, so Larkin puts in a call to his boss to have the package and tape examined for trace evidence. It’s not until later that night that he connects the dots properly to realise that the tape is almost certainly related to the thirty-year old unsolved murder of the body in the wall.

The mystery at the centre of Broadway Butchery is as complex and twisty as the others in the series as Larkin and Doyle begin to piece the clues together to realise that the death of this unknown woman is linked to the murder of the girl in the subway – they were never able to properly identify her, even though her death and the photograph eventually led to the solving of a number of other decades-old killings – and for Larkin to begin to see that there’s a bigger picture slowly emerging. I really liked the way the author utilises the concept of mise en abyme – a literary device most simply explained as a story within a story (think the play within the play in Hamlet) – to enable Larkin to see and understand that bigger picture, to realise that whoever is sending him the messages is doing so with a specific purpose in mind, that each Cold Case they have led Larkin to has widened out into something much bigger than it at first seemed. And that, in this particular case, learning the identity of both the dead woman behind the wall and the dead girl in the photograph is the crucial factor.

The very specific rituals associated with mourning in the Victorian era continue to play an important part in the stories, as do the themes of memory, remembrance and identity. The mementos mori found with the victims – photographs, death masks, black crêpe (a fabric used for making mourning garments) – are a kind of echo or mirror of Larkin’s unique memory condition, and his determination to honour the dead by remembrance is made all the more poignant by contrast to an era – not so long ago – when cases involving dead sex workers were routinely labelled “No Human Involved”.

The beating heart of this book, however, is the relationship between Larkin and Ira Doyle, the “treasure of his [Larkin’s] heart”. Being unable to forget pretty much everything that’s happened since the accident that traumatised his brain has taken a heavy toll on Larkin, and for years he’s struggled alone, the inability to keep all the many, many associations, facts, experiences and connections from flooding his memory at overwhelming speed or – at times - to separate his reality and the reality of his emotions from them has led to him becoming dependent on anti-anxiety medication simply because it makes him “care about them less.” By the beginning of Broadway Butchery, Larkin has accepted he had become addicted and has sought help – which comes with its own set of problems and struggles – but he’s no longer alone. At his side, Doyle is a constant and grounding influence, his complete opposite in so many ways, but, as Larkin has come to realise, someone who bears every bit as much trauma as Larkin does, but whose ability to be personable and charming (in a way Larkin never can be) means he is able to hide his pain beneath a mask of affability and good-humour.

The character and relationship development in this book – in this series – is incredible, and I love that, with these two, love and life together is about the little things rather than big gestures. Doyle being able to create new, positive associations for Larkin with just a single word or simple action; how the little pieces of himself he gives Larkin are given in absolute trust; how Larkin’s acute observations of the man he loves are slowly building a picture he knows Doyle isn’t ready to discuss yet… they make each other better in so many ways and are partners in the truest sense of the word. As I’ve said before, the insight and emotional intelligence on display in the way these characters are written is stunning and is completely consistent with who they are; Larkin’s intense moments of self-doubt deliver a real gut-punch and knowing that Doyle, such a sweet, caring man, must have gone through something truly awful – and that he has still not reached a point at which he can truly begin to heal – is heartbreaking.

The author does a really good job of balancing the light and dark in her stories; despite the gruesome subject matter, there are plenty of lighter moments to be found in Larkin’s deadpan snark or Doyle’s gentle flirtatiouness or in the affection and tenderness that characterises so many of their interactions. There’s a small, strongly characterised secondary cast – most of whom, like CSU Millett and Larkin’s colleague O’Halloran – have appeared in all the books, and who I hope we’ll continue to see cropping up in future.

Beautifully written and extensively researched, Broadway Butchery is another winner from C.S. Poe. The romance between Larkin and Doyle is utterly swoonworthy and the mystery is complex and extremely satisfying although, as I’m sure readers have come to expect by now, the book ends with a to be continued…” bombshell. Still, at least we know that whatever the author has in store for Larkin and Doyle next, it’s sure to be worth the wait.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : A

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : June 23, 2023

Publication Date: 06/2023

Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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