Intense! That ought to describe this one in a nut shell. A police officer goes deep undercover to bust a criminal organization that has already capped three undercover cops before him. Oh yeah, from page one I was riveted and I never lost that feeling until I hit the last page.
The story opens when Detective Mahir Hussein takes on a solo mission to infiltrate a strip club ostensibly to be one of the all gay security staff the owner insists upon so guys don’t hit on the working girls. He will hopefully earn some trust and be let deeper in so that he can get the evidence necessary to bust the huge drug empire. His first hurdle is the cold-eyed killer, Ridley, who is the head of security and his new boss. Ridley has his ways of weeding out cops and playing with a guy’s mind that leaves Mahir reeling, but somehow he gets through Ridley’s tests and works his way deeper in. Mahir finds that to succeed; he has to become the role, Sayed, and not just play at it. Sayed is attracted to Ridley and vice versa it seems. The two have a dangerous fascination for each other and carry on in secret because they’ll be killed if it’s discovered that they’re fooling around together. Mahir can’t believe that he is literally in bed with a killer. And what’s more unnerving is that he likes it- he likes something about Ridley.
On the home front, Mahir’s nephew shows up on his doorstep because Mahir’s brother won’t accept that his son is gay. Kinza is scared and hurting and insecure. He needs Mahir’s support, but Mahir can do little more than let the kid crash at his house since he has to stay at his persona, Sayed’s crash pad across the Sound in Seattle. Kinza is a typical teenager in that he is snotty about Mahir not being there, but he also is curious what work Mahir is doing that keeps him away. It’s not long before Mahir’s personal life and his work life come together in one big volatile situation that brings things to a crisis.
I don’t think it’s a stretch that the story has more than a nodding acquaintance with the psychological thriller stories. This is told all from Mahir’s perspective and the reader is kept right there with him as he experiences the intense introduction to Ridley and each trap that Ridley sets for Mahir to vet him out. This book grabs more than the emotions. I was viscerally engaged. Mahir walked the knife’s edge the whole time. Each scene with the enigmatic Ridley just sizzled and snapped. Again, it is all from Mahir’s perspective so it is only Ridley’s actions and words that are known and he is terrifying to Mahir. There are moments when Mahir gets glimpses of humanity in Ridley’s eyes, but Ridley can switch that off in a heartbeat. All that to say, plot and characters are fantastic.
I was pleased by the cutaway scenes with Mahir’s family situation because they were nice breaks from the intensity of his undercover role. I was fascinated by the dynamic of not only Mahir being a gay cop, but being Arab and Muslim too. I enjoyed the character of Kinza. He is a typical teen in ways and it had me smiling to recognize that, but he has the added burden of not having family support. Mahir can relate because it was the same for him.
I really don’t want to say much more, not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I don’t want to say something that will spoil someone’s reading experience.
To bring it all together, I was pulled into this story so far that I’m not sure I breathed at times. Amazingly strong plot and characters. I can’t recommend this enough to those who enjoy grittier m/m romantic suspense.
My thanks to Riptide Publishing for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.