The first two books in the Hot Cannoils series (Hot Seat and Hot Wings) were co-authored by Eli Easton and Tara Lain, but circumstances have led to the authors writing the next two books individually, so Eli Easton is flying solo for this third book in the series. Hot Pursuit is a fast-paced and entertaining tale of romantic suspense in which the focus switches from the Canali firefighters to the cop in the family, Rick, the much younger brother of Mike and Donny’s dad Angelo, who is a homicide detective with the Chico PD.
Rick Canali has organised his life just the way he likes it. He likes his job, he has no trouble getting laid when he wants it, and he’s always assured of a warm welcome in the bosom of his large, boisterous and loving family. When his work-partner of ten years retires, Rick’s neatly ordered life is disrupted when he’s saddled with a newly-promoted detective recently transferred from Vice, the infuruating (and infuriatingly attractive) John Rivera. The first time Rick set eyes on him, not knowing who he was, he’d definitely liked the look of the guy’s rangy physique and handsome face with its big, soulful dark eyes, but learning Rivera was a cop shut that down pretty fast – Rick doesn’t screw around with colleagues, ever.
Rick’s buried in work one morning when he gets a call from his nephew Donny, asking if he can swing by the precinct to talk, and Rick wonders what Donny can have to say to him that he doesn’t want to say in front of his father or brothers. When he arrives, Donny explains he’s concerned that the recent death of one of the firefighters from his house wasn’t an accident, and wants Rick to look into it. Rick isn’t sure what he can do – the report says the firefighter was killed in the line of duty – but Rivera knows one of the beat cops who was at the scene of the fire, and offers to see what he can find out. Rick can barely restrain his eye-roll at his new partner’s eagerness to clutch at straws, but while Rivera makes the call, Donny tells Rick that Liam Greene – the guy who died – had been acting strangely of late, keeping very much to himself and clearly preoccupied. When Rivera re-joins them, he doesn’t have much to add; the death is being treated as accidental and nobody is looking into it. Donny is really upset; Rick is trying to let him down gently when Rivera jumps in and says they’ll be happy to go talk to the Medical Examiner – anything for family, right? Rick doesn’t show his exasperation in front of Donny, but lets his partner know later that he think’s they’re on a hiding to nothing.
John knows the Canalis are a close-knit family and had thought Rick would be only too keen to do this for his nephew. Growing up in the foster system, John has never had anything or anyone he could call family and can’t help being just a bit envious of Rick – and doesn’t understand Rick’s reluctance to do a bit of digging; hell, even John wants to help Donny out and he’s not even related to him!
Their visit to the ME turns up some interesting – although not conclusive – information when the doctor finds evidence that suggests Liam could have received a blow to the back of the head which, if it didn’t kill him, could have rendered him unconscious and let smoke inhalation do the rest. It’s not a lot to go on, but it’s a start and Rick has to admit that maybe it’s worth closer scrutiny – and that John’s enthusiasm has shown him that he’s become a bit too complacent – even lazy – of late. But they’ve got to tread extremely carefully; if firefighters protect their own in the same way that cops do, chances are a cover-up is already under way, and asking awkward questions of other first respondes isn’t going to win them any friends. And if, as is possible, there IS a murderer among their ranks, it might even get them killed.
Eli Easton has crafted a solid, well-paced mystery that is skilfully interwoven with both the developing personal relationship between the two detectives and a secondary plotline involving John’s abusive ex – also a cop – who won’t take no for an answer and accept that they’re over. The balance between the plot and the personal is just about right – the mystery moves swiftly but logically and the author uses that time to build the tension between Rick and John, as John slowly begins to get under Rick’s skin and to break through his wall of grouchiness. Both men have good reasons for not jumping into bed at the first available opportunity, so there’s a bit of a slow burn going on here and I liked that; the mystery has time to bed in and the chemistry between Rick and John is given time to heat up.
This wouldn’t be a Hot Cannolis book without a few appearances by the rest of the Canali family, and I loved watching John falling under their spell and vice versa. He’s a greay guy – smart, charming, funny and intuitive – and has worked hard to make something of himself despite his difficult childhood. He’s never experienced what it means to truly belong, to have people around him who care what happens to him and love and support him unconditionally, so meeting the Canalis en masse is kind of overpowering, but kind of awesome, too.
I was pleased to see Angelo Canali being more accepting towards Mike and Donny and his support for Rick, who came out to him and Donny in the previous book (Hot Wings) when Rick realised how badly his nephew was struggling to accept his sexuality. Rick is fourteen years Angelo’s junior, so he kind of bridges the generation gap between father and sons, and he’s a very private man, who firmly – and rightly – believes that his sex life and sexual orientation is nobody’s business but his own. It’s for that reason – and also because he doesn’t want any workplace drama – that he’s never come out, but when he starts to fall for John, he realises that by not doing so – to his nearest and dearest at least – he’s chosen to accept his role within the family as the ‘confirmed bachelor’ – and that it isn’t what he actually wants for himself any more. Once he realises that John is it for him, he’s all in; no bullshit or running away from his feelings, and I appreciated that they discuss how being together might affect their work partnership and what their options might be.
On the downside, Rick is perhaps a bit too much of a White Knight, swooping in to rescue John from the evil ex more than once, and his character is a bit underdeveloped. I felt that I got to know John more than I did Rick, who is, after all, the book’s Hot Cannoli. And there’s an odd narrative choice near the end, where the author inserts a short chapter from Donny’s PoV (the rest of the book – apart from the prologue – is split between Rick and John) – it’s jarring and contrived.
Despite those niggles though, I was completely caught up in the mystery and really liked Rick and John as a couple; they’re a good fit and I found it easy to imagine them together for the long haul. If you’re looking for a single-title romantic suspense novel that gets the balance right, Hot Pursuit should be on your radar.