The Wolf at Bay
If you haven’t read The Wolf at the Door, the first book in the Big Bad Wolf series, be warned – there are spoilers in this review. In it, the author introduced readers to a world in which werewolves exist, although humans are largely unaware of them. I was completely sucked into the suspense and romance elements of the story and had high hopes for book two, The Wolf at Bay, which proved to be another addictive page turner, although this time out, the novel frustrates early on and only hits its stride in the second half. The suspense plot is less intriguing this time, but the romance more than makes up for it. While the ending is still firmly in the happy for now column, the relationship feels destined for happily ever after. This is a partnership – professional and personal – that readers will root for… and despite our principal characters frequent, oft repeated missteps, I loved them.
The Wolf at Bay, like The Wolf at the Door, takes place entirely in the PoV of BSI (Bureau of Special Investigations) Agent Cooper Dayton. Cooper, who only joined the BSI after he was nearly eviscerated by a werewolf, found himself partnered up with Oliver Park, a werewolf and agent for The Trust (a werewolf organization). Wary and suspicious, conditioned by his near-death experience and former BSI partner to distrust and dislike werewolves, Cooper initially treated Park as his adversary, but as the investigation unfolded, he found himself unable to resist his handsome, enigmatic and capable partner. When The Wolf at the Door ended, he and Park were lovers, Cooper learned his original BSI partner was the killer targeting werewolves – and realised almost everything he knew (or thought he knew) about werewolves was wrong.
The Wolf at Bay picks up four months later; Cooper and Park are still BSI partners and lovers, but Cooper is plagued with insecurities about the relationship and unable to confess his feelings for Park. He wants more, but doesn’t know how to ask for it, and worries that Park doesn’t feel the same. In the opening sequence, Cooper finds himself again at the mercy of a werewolf; Park intervenes to protect him and later chastises him for taking unnecessary risks. Cooper is resentful and angry at Park’s overprotectiveness, and struggles to reconcile those feelings with his affection for him. After the case wraps up, there’s an awkward tension between them. Cooper is terrified Park wants to end the… whatever it is they’re doing, and desperately wants and simultaneously dreads ‘The Talk’. He nearly screws things up again, but before he can gather the courage to talk to Park, his father calls – reminding him of his brother’s upcoming engagement party. He agrees to go and invites Park to join him. The visit home – Cooper’s first in nearly two years – starts off awkwardly, and quickly goes sideways when a skeleton is found buried in the backyard of his family home.
One of the many pleasures of this novel is the intricate manner in which the author links the secrets between Cooper and Park – truths they’re both seemingly too afraid to confess to one another – with the ones revealed once the murder subplot is introduced. Cooper is forced to examine his feelings for Park whilst trying to clear his father’s name and determine just how and why a dead body turned up in his backyard. It’s a tricky bit of maneuvering as Ms. Adhara deftly keeps the two extremely complex plotlines moving in tandem as the novel progresses. Cooper wants more from his relationship with Park; he adores and desires him, but subconsciously sabotages every opportunity for honesty. He’s kept his job at the BSI and his sexuality a secret from his family, and can’t seem to find a way to bridge the distance that’s grown between them. He isn’t even sure he wants to. Meanwhile, there’s a dead body in the backyard – one the FBI is convinced his father put there – and as Cooper and Park investigate, old secrets finally come to light. Cooper has to reexamine his childhood, the small neighborhood in which he was raised, neighbors he thought he knew, and the part he’s played in pushing his family away when they only wanted to be closer to him. It’s a lot of moving pieces, but Ms. Adhara juggles them all with aplomb.
Cooper is an emotional mess . He doesn’t trust that anyone can love him or understand why they might, and he second-guesses all of his personal relationships. Those closest to Cooper struggle (in their own way) to break through his self-imposed walls, and it’s painful to witness his bumbling attempts to meet them part way. The first half frustrates – Cooper alienates Park, his family – and then, mid-way through the book, after a particular steamy encounter with Park, Cooper chills out. He stops fighting his feelings, starts opening himself up to the people who love him… and the story opens up too. Cooper isn’t easy to love. But he tries. And fails. And tries again. I liked this voyage of self-discovery, and although it’s crystal clear to readers that Park is waiting for Cooper, it’s equally clear Park has some pretty significant secrets of his own. Readers will either root for this couple or grow frustrated by the slow pace in which they work out their issues… but it’s worth the wait.
While I ultimately came to love the relationship dynamics, the investigation is also compelling and clever. I enjoyed the slow revelation of clues and the introduction of the various secondary characters – all of whom are Cooper’s suspects at one time or another – and it’s impossible to guess who did it. Unfortunately, once the murderer is revealed, it doesn’t have quite the same impact as it did in the first book. I like surprises, but this one was random. Luckily, it leads to a sweetly satisfying happy for now ending that sees Cooper forging better relationships with his family, and with Park. Although I’m concerned Park’s secrets threaten to derail Cooper’s newfound openess. Oh, Park.
The Wolf at Bay is an engaging and affecting follow up to the wonderful The Wolf at the Door. The first half frustrates, but ultimately, Cooper examines the clues and finds a killer and a partner to love. Ms. Adhara leaves readers satisfied, but eager for more.