Desert Isle Keeper
The Wolf at the Door
In January, I had the pleasure of reading The Wolf at the Door, the début novel from Charlie Adhara. I thought it was terrific and couldn’t wait to review it for All About Romance. So you can imagine my surprise when, after receiving an early copy of the second book in the series, The Wolf at Bay, I looked up my review to refresh my memory AND DISCOVERED I NEVER WROTE ONE. Oh dear. Oops? The Wolf at the Door is a delicious combination of all my current favorite things: a slow burn (sexy) romance between two intriguing (and opposite) principal characters; a complex and engaging mystery; terrific storytelling and world building; AND (best of all) it’s the first book in a new series. I started it and couldn’t put it down – and even better, I felt the same way re-reading it before writing this review. Spoiler alert: the second book, The Wolf at Bay, is similarly excellent and comes out in September, so start reading now!
As the son of a sheriff, Cooper Dayton grew up knowing he would one day chase bad guys, but after a terrifying near-death experience leaves him partially eviscerated and with many questions about what happened, he’s forced by his superiors to make a choice: remain in the dark about the attack, or quit the FBI and join the secretive BSI (Bureau of Special Investigations) and learn the truth. He opts to join the BSI and shortly thereafter, he learns he was attacked by a werewolf. Yes, they exist. Oh, and by the way, they’re everywhere.
They were real and they had “come out” five years ago to governments around the world, represented by a group that called themselves the Trust. The Trust had explained werewolves had always existed, living amongst humans, but due to persecution had slipped quite intentionally into hiding and mythology.
When The Wolf at the Door opens, it’s been a year since the attack and Cooper is struggling to come to terms with the truth and the physical effects of the attack (he’s missing six and a half feet of small intestine). He’s still learning the ropes as a BSI agent, and isn’t sure how he feels about werewolves or his career change; his partner has taught him to be wary and suspicious of all wolves, but Cooper is more fascinated and curious than anything else. His uncertainty at work and the need to keep his job a secret from his family has him increasingly on edge. Another dangerous run-in when chasing down a wolf leads to a drunken night worrying about his future… until he’s awoken by a call from his supervisor asking him to come in for a surprise meeting. Instead of the reprimand he expects, he’s assigned a new case investigating a string of mysterious deaths in Maine that might be linked to a wolf. But there’s a caveat. After a recent increase in tensions between the overstretched BSI and increasingly frustrated Trust, the agencies are trying something new: partnering BSI and Trust agents.
When Cooper arrives in Maine, he’s attracted to his handsome, rugged and sexy partner Park, but he’s also guarded. After a year working with Jefferson, his mentor and now partner at the BSI, Cooper is reluctant to trust or let his guard down around a wolf; so despite Oliver Park’s good looks, calm demeanor and obvious skills as an investigator, he keeps him at a distance. As the case becomes increasingly more complicated and the list of potential killers continues to grow, Cooper finds himself increasingly drawn to his enigmatic partner and curious about him. With no one above suspicion, Cooper is forced to rely on Park – as a friend, investigative partner, and as a wolf – and to trust him to help find the killer. The author deftly parallels the development of their professional relationship with the slow simmering attraction between them. Cooper struggles with both, but Park patiently waits for him… and when Cooper finally acknowledges he feels the same, their bond is unbreakable.
Romantic suspense is tough – often the romance is sacrificed in order to advance the suspense plot or vice versa, but Ms. Adhara manages both with aplomb. The mystery Cooper and Park are sent to investigate is complex and darkly disturbing, and the cast of secondary characters and potential villains – rangers, police officers, wolves and the local townspeople – seems to grow with every day Cooper and Park spend in Maine. The suspense plot is engaging and keeps readers guessing until the bitter end, and I found myself marveling at the author’s ability to misdirect. Although I had my suspicions about ‘whodunit’ early on, I had no idea where the mystery was going until the final reveal. The suspense elements are clever, compelling and well-paced, and Ms. Adhara does a terrific job advancing the mystery in tandem with the partnership between Park and Cooper.
Fortunately, the romance is similarly well executed. Because the story is told entirely through Cooper’s PoV, it’s difficult to know what Park thinks and feels about his partner; and Cooper is so plagued with doubt – about his attraction to Park, his feelings about wolves, his ability to lead an investigation, and the case in general – that it sometimes seems as if he will never figure things out. It’s clear early on that Cooper is torn by his instinct to trust Park, and the lessons he learned at the BSI, where he was taught to assume wolves are bad and to distrust them. Luckily for Cooper, Park is patient, calm, and forgiving and waits for Cooper to sort himself out, revealing his strengths as an investigator, partner and eventually, lover. It’s a lovely slow-burn waiting game as the mystery and relationship evolve, and I loved this opposites pairing – a mellow amused (and bemused) Park juxtaposed with the tart and mostly unamused Cooper. The author smoothly illustrates how the investigation and reliance on each other forms the foundation for their slow simmering romantic feelings. There are missteps, red herrings, and awkward interactions in both the case and the romance. But once Cooper finally begins to open himself up, their dynamic is lovely – alternately funny, awkward, sexy, sweet. The deepening of their feelings for each other deftly mirrors the deepening complexity of the murder investigation.
Although The Wolf at the Door ends with a hopeful HFN, they solve their case. The series (I believe it is a trilogy) follows the pair as their professional and personal relationships evolve and we discover more about their individual backstories. This début is smart, clever and intensely romantic, and I highly recommend you read it before The Wolf at Bay is released in September.