Desert Isle Keeper
Object of Desire
Reviewing romantic suspense is a bit of a sticky wicket, as it’s extremely difficult to discuss a suspense novel without spoiling it. Reader, Object of Desire has so many of secrets (and potential bad guys) it’s difficult to keep track of them all! And then Ms. Maclean further muddies the water by making her principal character, the titular object of desire, an extremely polarizing figure whom I loved and loathed in equal measure. In fact, most of the time I just wanted to shake him.
Tom Gray is one of the most sought after and highly paid fashion models in the world. He works hard and plays hard – even though he knows Nick, his boyfriend, wants more. Tom doesn’t love Nick; he loves his freedom and independence – and he jettisons anyone and anything that threatens it. For now, he’s happy with things the way they are – Nick, his friends with benefits relationship with Pez, his booker and closest friend, and the odd casual hook-up whenever he’s in the mood. In case you missed it, Tom is pathologically afraid of love (and also sort of an asshole). When Object of Desire begins, he’s growing more and more uncomfortable about Nick’s increasing possessiveness and he’s contemplating moving from London to New York City for work.
Tom’s plans and his quietly controlled life are shattered in an instant when he answers a desperate phone call from Nick whilst at a photoshoot. Arriving home that afternoon, Nick discovered his estranged wife and business partner, Catriona – the woman he left to be with Tom – dead of an apparent suicide in the master bedroom. Sobbing, he begs Tom to come quickly; Tom tries to control his sense of dread as he makes his way there… he can’t fathom why Catriona would kill herself but he suspects his relationship with Nick might have had something to do with it. He manages to sneak past the police cordon and into the master bedroom and has just enough time to to glimpse the gory, horrific tableau within: Catriona, naked and bloody, splayed out on the bed.
At the risk of spoiling this extremely complex novel, I’ll simply say that Catriona’s death sets in motion a chain of events that nearly destroys Tom’s life and reveals to him (and us) how COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS Tom is about his friends and lovers. He had no idea Catriona was depressed and struggling to accept the end of her relationship with Nick, or that she was failing at work and seeing a therapist – and that other friends were worried about her while Tom, who also considered himself a friend, never sensed her distress or misery. He’s tortured by guilt – he’d been contemplating ending his affair with Nick while Catriona was depressed and suicidal – and stunned by his role in her suicide. But Catriona’s death, ironically, binds him to Nick – he can’t fathom leaving him now. Oh, Tom. Things are about to get a LOT WORSE. In short order, a friend of Catriona accuses him of stalking and harassing her into killing herself, and the police determine Catriona was murdered. Tom becomes their number one suspect.
The murder and stalking allegations throw Tom’s life into chaos. He’s barely able to process that his friend was murdered, and he’s bewildered by the allegations that he threatened and hounded her before her death. The lawyer Nick engages hires a private investigator to look into the stalking allegations – and it turns out that the PI is well known to Tom. It’s Will Foster, his former lover and partner; after abruptly (and brutally) dumping him two years ago, Tom had hoped to never see him again.
As I mentioned earlier, Tom is a polarizing principal character. Ms. Maclean has a gift for writing protagonists that are hard to love (see: Ben Morgan, Bitter Legacy), and in her bio states … she dislikes the Tragic Gay trope, but loves imperfect characters and genuine emotional conflict in romantic fiction. Friends, I believe it. Tom is a hot mess. He’s clueless about friends and lovers and blind to how they truly feel about him, which makes him something of an unreliable narrator. He’s afraid of love and flees at the first sign of dependency – his or theirs. Like most romantic heroes he’s beautiful – an object of desire – after all, he’s one of the world’s top models and that’s literally his job. But beneath the surface, he’s a floundering, emotional mess, flitting between friends and lovers and always withholding parts of himself. When Will reappears in his life – at the worst time in his life – he’s amazed by the intensity of his feelings. Two years ago, Will admitted he loved Tom and suggested they move in together. Tom panicked. No, he freaked; he ended the relationship with the help of a good friend (the kind with benefits) and some x-rated pictures. I told you he was hard to love. Seeing Will again reawakens emotions Tom has long suppressed and reminds him of the man he used to be – and throws his life into further upheaval.
Obviously, Tom’s relationship with Will is a huge part of Object of Desire. Once Ms. Maclean pairs them up, the novel diverges into two parallel plotlines with Tom and Will at the center of both: their partnership and the changing dynamic of their relationship, and the hunt for the killer/stalker who is systematically destroying Tom’s life and who seems to always be one step ahead of them. From the moment Catriona’s body is discovered, the pace never lets up as Ms. Maclean carefully, perfectly, balances the romance and suspense elements. I couldn’t put the book down and I was deeply invested in the resolution of both. Tom is alternately afraid, angry, hopeless and devastated and as the novel progresses, there are twists, turns, and red herrings galore. It’s extremely difficult to guess who the bad guy is, and frankly, almost everyone but Will made me very suspicious. My feelings for Tom ran the gamut and I’m still not convinced he deserved his happy ever after. Meanwhile, he sexes his way through conflict avoidance, apologies, sadness and happiness… and frustrates just about everyone (including himself) along the way. But his stumbling and bumbling is also somewhat endearing, and he eventually finds his way back into Will’s good graces. Tom, despite his career choice, is no intellectual lightweight. He was studying forensic medicine when he was ‘discovered,’ and once he and Will make peace with each other, they make a dynamic (and formidable) crime solving team. Will, by the way, is an excellent foil for Tom – protective, kind, tough and sweet – and though we never have the benefit of his PoV (that’s coming in the next book!) , it’s clear he cares deeply for Tom.
Object of Desire is a thrilling, sexy and terrific follow-up to the author’s début novel, Bitter Legacy. Her writing brings the London setting and characters to life, and there’s a palpable sense of urgency and dread as the novel unfolds. Unfortunately, however, the resolution of the suspense plot is rather clunky – and on reflection, also a bit confusing. I know whodunit but I’m still not 100% clear as to why, so my final grade is a compromise of sorts, because everything else about the book works so incredibly well. Nevertheless, this is a novel you won’t want to put down once you begin and it will stay with you days after you finish it. Smart, assured and addictive, Object of Desire once again proves Ms. Maclean to be a master of the genre.