Liar City
Grade : A-

Allie Therin moves from East to West and from the 1920s to the present day for her new Sugar & Spice series of paranormals set in an AU Seattle. Her début series - Magic in Manhattan - is a clever and imaginative combination of romance and magical adventure set in prohibition-era New York, and I enjoyed it a lot, even though I felt the overarching plot took a while to really hit its stride. But Ms. Therin’s latest release, Liar City, comes strong out of the gate and had me hooked right from the start. The story is an intriguing, fast-paced murder mystery where nothing is quite as it seems, the lines between good and evil are blurred and you’ll find yourself thinking about who the real monsters are and who the victims. It’s a strong start to what promises to be a compelling series, but one thing I have to say right now is don’t go into this book expecting an HEA or HFN, because there isn’t one. Even though it’s published by Carina Adores (an LGBTQ+ romance publisher) and is very clearly labelled as a romance on Amazon, it is NOT a romance in the generally accepted sense. (The two leads don’t even touch deliberately – their one accidental touch knocks one of them unconscious!) That said, this is only the first book in a series and it’s clear the author is setting up a very slooooow-burn.

Reece Davis is one of only two empaths in Seattle. Empaths can read other people’s emotions, but are subject to very strict regulations – such as having to wear special gloves whenever they are out in public, which not only identify them but also prevent them from reading people should they accidentally touch them. Empaths are avowed pacifists who are incredibly sensitive to acts of violence and would allow themselves to be hurt rather than hurt someone else – but despite that they are feared and mistrusted by many, who believe they are a threat to democracy, and this has given rise to conspiracy-theorist lobby groups and think-tanks, companies like Stone Solutions (which develops and manufactures anti-empathy devices), and to a new anti-empath bill designed to strip empaths of basic civil rights.

Reece is battling yet another bout of insomnia when he gets a phone call from an unknown number telling him that his sister, who is a detective with the Seattle PD, has just landed the biggest case of her career and needs his help. When asked, the caller says he’s Evan Grayson – which means nothing to Reece – but if there’s even a chance that Jamey needs him, Reece is going to be there. Detective Briony St. James has been called to the small Orca’s Gate Marina where three people – including a US senator, the originator of the new anti-empathy bill – have been brutally murdered aboard the yacht belonging to Cedric Stone (CEO of Stone Solutions). When Reece arrives, he can see Jamey is more than a bit rattled, and when he tells her who called him, she becomes even moreso, practically marching him towards one of their makeshift tents and instructing him firmly to stay put. The name Evan Grayson clearly means something to her, but she refuses to discuss it, saying only that she’s worried he’s going to show up.

When Reece gets the chance to check Google, he realises why Jamie was so squirrely and intent on getting him as far away from Seattle as possible. Evan Grayson is the Dead Man – but the Dead Man is just a scary story, isn’t he? A kind of bogeyman invented to frighten empaths into toeing the line, an agent who operates in the shadows and outside the law to protect the public from the perceived dangers of empathy should an empath so much as think about pushing the boundaries. But Evan Grayson – the Dead Man – is no myth. He’s real. And he has Reece’s number.

The author keeps a lot of plates spinning in this story, and does it very well indeed. While Jamey is investigating the murders from one angle, Reece has no choice but to tag along with Grayson for his own protection while Grayson pursues other lines of inquiry. Reece is not best pleased with the situation, and is never sure whether Grayson is friend or foe – remaining unenightened by the man himself who, on the one hand, seems disposed to keep Reece out of trouble, and on the other insists no empath - Reece especially - should trust him. With the death toll increasing, Reece starts to realise some pretty disturbing truths, ones he finds hard to accept at first, but which he nonetheless knows to be true, and to understand more about exactly what triggered the Dead Man’s involvement in the case. Worse, Reece is starting to realise that the change in his own abilities over the past few months may somehow be an indicator of an encroaching kind of madness which could easily be turned against everyone around him. The big question is – is the Dead Man here to help him… or stop him?

As I said at the outset, Liar City isn’t really a romance, but there’s more than a hint at the possibility of one in the slight-but-definitely-there tension that underlies the relationship between Reece and Grayson. It’s complicated, shifting between animosity, betrayal and uncertain collaboration, eventually settling on a kind of mutual respect and, on Reece’s part at least, a teeny bit of attraction. But there’s a lot in between, not least because Grayson is so inscrutable. On the one hand, there’s his gruff protectiveness towards Reece, the gentle teasing and the nicknames (Care Bear!); on the other, he’s ruthless and completely unemotional, he appears to be above the law and to have unlimited resources to do whatever the hell he wants. He’s a complete mystery and only at the very end of the book do we learn even a tiny bit about why he’s the way he is, and even then, it poses more questions than it offers answers.

I liked Reece a lot. Like Rory in the Magic in Manhattan books, he’s small in stature but snarky as hell; his propensity for sarcasm frequently lands him in hot water (and goes straight over most people’s heads) but he doesn’t suffer fools and I’m a sucker for his particular brand of scrappy. Reece may be a pacifist who throws up at the faintest hint of violence, but he’s not afraid to fight with words or stand up for what he believes in.

The story is told in both Reece’s and Jamey’s PoV, which allows the reader to follow the different aspects of the murder investigation. Jamey is great – she’s totally kick-arse, takes no crap and I enjoyed her dynamic with Grayson - but I can’t deny that the PoV switches were sometimes a bit frustrating. Also a bit odd is the fact that the Dead Man is widely believed to be an urban myth, but he inspires a very real fear, and although nobody is supposed to have met him, suddenly everyone knows who he is and what he looks like. I wanted to know more about how it was that Grayson was able to take precedence over both local law enforcement and the FBI and do whatever he wanted, although I hope that maybe that will become clearer in future books.

Despite those niggles, Liar City gets a big thumbs up from me. I liked the characters – much as in her earlier series, Allie Therin has created a small ensemble cast around her leads – the setting and the worldbuilding, and the anti-empathy sentiment is written so chillingly that it has a visceral impact. As I said at the beginning, this is a mystery with just the tinest hints of a potential romance somewhere down the line, but I think it’ll be worth the wait. I’ll definitely be continuing with the Sugar & Vice series, and I’m looking forward to finding out what’s in store for Reece and Grayson next.

ETA: The author has said in her newsletter that there will be an HEA, and that there are three books in the series.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : A-

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : February 28, 2023

Publication Date: 03/2023

Recent Comments …

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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