Up Close and Personal
Up Close and Personal is the third book in Jay Hogan’s Auckland Med. series of novels featuring characters who work in law enforcement and emergency services in New Zealand’s largest city. The opposites-attract romance between a quietly contained pathologist and a flirtatious, out-and-proud detective has lots of lovely UST and is a delicious slow burn, and the mystery is well-paced, with some nicely-done action scenes and narrative twists. The leads are complex and engaging, and I enjoyed catching up with some of the characters from the previous books; but if you haven’t read them, don’t worry because each book in the series works perfectly well as a standalone.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Edward Newton relocated to Auckland from Christchurch a few months earlier, and when the book opens, he’s just arrived at a remote farm, where the body of a man has been washed up on a nearby beach. The weather is atrocious; he’s drenched and caked in mud and thinking things can’t get any worse when – of course – they do. The lead detective on the case is Mark Knight, who, for the three months Ed has known him, has never missed an opportunity to flirt with him and make it very clear he’d love to get into Ed’s pants. There’s no question that Mark is a very attractive man, but he’s got a reputation as a player and Ed isn’t into casual sex and one-night stands. It’s not that he’s never had them; he just finds they leave him feeling empty and disappointed. For him, attraction is about the whole package; knowing and liking someone is as important to him as what goes on in bed, and it usually takes him a while to feel attraction for someone. Which is what makes his stupid crush on a man he hardly knows so annoying and unnerving.
Mark Knight – whom we met in book one, First Impressions – makes no secret of the fact that he’s not interested in relationships and makes no attempt to counter his friends’ belief in his man-whore ways. He likes things casual and repeats aren’t his style; he’s sufficiently self-aware to understand exactly why he feels that way, but has never found a reason to want to break his own rules. But something about the prickly, self-contained and buttoned-up Edward Newton really does it for Mark, and he just can’t resist getting the man riled up with a bit of teasing and innuendo. Not only is Edward damn cute when he’s pissed, it also guarantees he’ll keep himself at a distance, which is just how Mark wants it. Until he doesn’t. Because he finds himself actually wanting to get to know Edward, something he rarely thinks about anyone, ever. This is huge and uncharted territory for Mark, whose only experience of love has been watching his parents, who were so utterly besotted with each other that they had zero time or affection to give to their only child.
Mark and Ed are both fairly sure that their interest in the other is returned, but neither is sure how to take the next step – or if he even wants to. Ed knows he’s not the easiest guy to be around; he’s introverted and likes his own space; he takes time to warm to people and is often perceived as undiplomatically blunt. But when he uncovers some disturbing and potentially damaging information about the case they’re currently working on – and that this death may be linked to one that occurred shortly before Ed arrived in Auckland – he and Mark decide to work together to see if they can work out if the similarities are coincidental or if there is something sinister at work. That question is answered, however, when Ed and Mark are attacked and their case files and laptops stolen. Clearly, someone is prepared to go to any lengths to prevent the truth coming to light, and the men know they won’t be safe until they’ve exposed whatever is going on and whoever is behind it.
The suspense plot is well executed and there are several candidates for ‘main villain’ right up until the reveal, so it did come as a surprise. In terms of the romance, the events of the story take place over just a few days, but because Mark and Edward spend most of that time holed up together and they’ve already known each other for three months, the steps forward they take in their relationship don’t feel rushed. They have great chemistry, but best of all, these guys COMMUNICATE. They dance around each other for a while, but even while they’re doing that, they’re talking about what they want and gradually lowering their barriers and allowing themselves to be vulnerable around each other. There’s no silly prevarication or persistent denial here; Mark is scared shitless at the prospect of venturing into relationship territory – something he has no real experience of – and isn’t afraid to admit it, but realises that he wants to move forward with Edward more than he wants to continue to play it safe. And Edward has to decide whether he’s prepared to take a risk on Mark and let him into his life and heart. I really liked the way they opened up to each other about their concerns and agreed to keep talking – it gave the romance a refreshingly mature feel and also made it clear that these two weren’t just reacting to the sudden danger they were in.
With that said, I did sometimes think that some of those discussions were a tad long-winded, and some of the mental lusting was a bit overdone, but overall, the romance worked for me. There was, however, one big part of the story that didn’t, which was the presence of Ed’s huge, jowly, slobbery mastiff – or rather the constant mention of her slobbering. Almost every time she appears, she’s accompanied by descriptions of drool, which… well, eeeew. She drools over clothes, she drools over bedding, she drools over everything, but the absolute worst was the moment she’s licking Ed’s face and – her tongue found its way into her owner’s open mouth. Just… ugh. Even now, writing out that quote for this review, the thought makes me feel sick.
It’s a small thing, and it’s obviously something that isn’t going to bother everyone, but when it comes down to it, I’m here to give my impression of the book as a whole, and the constant mentions of dog-drool honestly did take me out of the story a few times. YMMV, of course.
In spite of that, Up Close and Personal proved to be an absorbing and entertaining read. The leads are likeable and their romance is sweet, sexy, tender and laced with humour; their relationships with their friends and colleagues are well-drawn and ultimately, the author has achieved a good balance between the romance and the suspense to achieve a cohesive and enjoyable whole.