Footsteps in the Dark
by L.B. Gregg, Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Dal MacLean, Z.A. Maxfield, Meg Perry, C.S. Poe, S.C. Wynne
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Pub Date 31 May 2019 | Archive Date 30 Aug 2019
JustJoshin Publishing, Inc., Vellichor Books
The snick of a lock. The squeak of door hinges. The creak of a floorboard…
Nothing is more mysterious than footsteps in the dark. Are those approaching steps that of friend or enemy? Lover or killer?
Authors L.B. Gregg, Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Dal MacLean, Z.A. Maxfield, Meg Perry, C.S. Poe and S.C. Wynne join forces for Footsteps in the Dark, eight sexy and suspenseful novellas of Male/Male Mystery and Romance.
A Note From the Publisher
In the mean time, why not check out the web sites of the contributors?
Print and electronic advertising campaign in Publisher's Weekly, Romantic Times Report and Mystery Scene.
Print and electronic advertising campaign in Publisher's Weekly, Romantic Times Report and Mystery Scene.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 16 members
I had high hopes for this anthology when I saw two of the names attached to it (Dal Maclean and Josh Lanyon), and Footsteps in the Dark more than met my expectations, although in the end, all but one of my favorite stories were penned by new-to-me authors (yay!). None of the eight stories are particularly scary or horrifying; instead, they’re uniformly clever and compelling - featuring an intriguing cast of principal characters (heroes and villains), disparate plots, and settings that transport the reader around the globe. It’s always challenging to review an anthology and this one is better than most. I’ve limited my comments to my favorite stories in the collection (and then graded them in order of preference), but reader - this is a strong assortment of stories you will be hard pressed to put down, and Footsteps in the Dark is more proof that m/m romantic suspense writers are crafting the best stories in romancelandia these days.
Blind Man’s Bluff by L. B. Gregg
Grade: A Sensuality: Kisses
The set-up of this novella - a group of adventurous high school teachers/friends meet-up for a game of Capture the Flag inside a long abandoned shopping mall - didn’t initially grab me, but after the first few pages, told from the extremely sarcastic and self-deprecating PoV of Tommy (not Thomas) Cline, I was hooked.
Tommy has been best friends with Jonah Theroux for years, and after witnessing Jonah masterfully break-up a school fight, he suddenly realizes he’s attracted to him, too. Hoping to sneak away once the game gets underway, Tommy’s surprised and thrilled when it turns out Jonah had a similar plan. The teams split up and Jonah grabs Tommy’s hand and kisses him, whispering about how long he’s waited for Tommy to wake up and realize they’re meant to be together. They trade kisses and finally separate to join their team mate, but just as Tommy turns to follow Jonah, a trussed and blindfolded body drops on top of him.
Gregg, a new-to-me author, hits the gas pedal after the body drops and never backs off until the very end. Tommy and Jonah - and their newest team member, a surly teenager who escaped his captor by flinging himself off the second floor - face off against a homicidal maniac who knows the abandoned mall like the back of his hand. The pace is frantic as they fight off a smug, crazy killer and search for an escape, all the while hoping for help from their missing (possibly dead) friends. Exciting, heart pounding, and romantic, I couldn’t put this story down. Blind Man’s Bluff is my surprise favorite novella in the anthology.
Pepper the Crime Lab by Z. A. Maxfield
Grade: A Sensuality: Kisses
After a bout of pneumonia and near fatal allergic reaction to the medication he took to treat it, chef/restaurant owner Lonnie Boudreaux needs a fresh start. But his first night in his new apartment gets off to a rough start when he’s kept awake by a neighbor’s barking dog. Failing to get the manager to do something about the noise, he meets another frustrated neighbor in the hall – and when the barking abruptly changes to crying, they enter the unlocked apartment and discover the dog with a lampshade cord wrapped around its neck, and a dead body in the master bedroom. Lonny, shocked by the sight of so much blood and a familiar knife in the man's chest, unthinkingly pulls it out. Oops. His actions make Lonnie the primary suspect in the murder, as his handsome - possibly a cop? - neighbor Enrique “Rick” Garcia makes abundantly clear after he calls police to the crime scene. Lonnie knows he isn’t a murderer and he sets out to find out who is.
Lonny is a stereotypical workaholic restaurant owner. He’s never been good at relationships or taking care of himself, but hopes the forced sabbatical and his goal of pet ownership will help him find balance. He didn’t expect to become a murder suspect or to meet an enigmatic and beautiful stranger from his past. But that’s what he gets.. .along with Pepper, the barking (now ownerless) labrador. This tiny gem of a novella tracks two parallel storylines - Lonny’s search for a killer (and possible dog poisoner) and his personal journey from loner workaholic to loving partner and dog owner. He’s a quirky, horny, loveable mess who finds happiness where he least expects it, and Rick is the gentle and fierce protector (with a heart of gold) who tries diligently to keep him out of harm's way. I guessed who the villain was early on - but it didn’t stop me from loving every single thing about this story or this pair (and Pepper too!).
A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
After nearly a decade away, Inspector Calum Macleod has returned to his parents’ remote and isolated home in the Western Isles of Scotland, determined to repress his sexual desires and fulfill his destiny - marrying a local girl, giving his parents grandchildren - and spending the remainder of his years tucked away in this quiet corner of the world. But when a neighbor is brutally murdered and evidence at the scene suggests the murder might be linked to a valuable family heirloom, Calum follows the clues... straight to Adam Patterson, the man he’s spent years trying (and failing) to forget.
Atmospheric and sombre, ACFOM is tonally the darkest story in the anthology. Calum is a remote and damaged hero who grows on you as the story progresses, but his deep sadness at the bleak future he imagines for himself is powerfully affecting. Even after the author introduces Adam (clearly his soul mate), it isn’t clear there is a happily ever in the offing for this pair. Adam is aloof and distant, Calum is overwhelmed by the intensity of his feelings being near him again, and it’s an awkward and painful reunion. Maclean loves imperfect characters, unreliable narrators, and genuine emotional conflict and this one has all-of-the-above in spades. I wanted happiness for Calum... but wasn’t sure he wanted it for himself.
Unlike the other stories in this anthology, the whodunnit in ACFOM is impossible to guess, and although I liked how all the disparate plot threads come together, it was a bit overwhelming and a tad too neat. There’s a lot to unpack in this gem of a novella and readers unfamiliar with Maclean might be concerned it’s too much. It isn’t.
Pro tip: Save yourself some frustration and read the bonus Scottish Gaelic glossary before you start reading the novella.
Reality Bites by S. C. Wynne
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
Opposites attract when Detective Cabot Decker is asked to investigate the possible murder of one of the contestants in a reality TV show. Cabot isn’t convinced it’s murder - after all, the man was mauled and eaten by a panther after agreeing to spend the night locked in the animal’s cage. Even after he meets the show’s anxious and concerned (handsome) producer, Jax Thornburn, he isn’t convinced the case is anything more than an animal behaving like an animal should, but watching tape of the night the contestant was killed changes his mind. And when someone tries to run the producer off the road and then sets his office on fire, Caleb’s investigation takes on a new urgency. Can he find the killer before Jax becomes a victim?
Reality Bites is a terrific title for this clever novella, especially since reality turns out to be a many layered thing. Is the show reality? Nope. And Caleb’s assumptions - about the case, about Jax, about himself - aren’t reality either. Caleb can’t help but be protective of Jax, and even though he’s attracted to him, he tries hard to resist Jax’s obvious interest. But his efforts are wasted since Caleb likes Jax and wants to keep him safe, and Jax - who’s made a career out of taking chances - wants a wary Caleb to take a chance on him. These two have great chemistry despite their differences, and I enjoyed the developing dynamic between them as much as the investigation into the murder that brings them together. I had my guesses about the villain - and I was partially right - but the climatic ending was still somewhat of a surprise. Reality Bites is a clever, exciting and sexy novella, and S. C. Wynne is another author I’ll be spending more time with in the very near future.
The other novellas in the collection are:
Entree to Murder by Nicole Kimberling. Grade: B
Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry. Grade: B
Lights, Camera, Murder by C. S. Poe. Grade: C+
Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon. Grade: C+
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A great variety of m/m romantic mysteries and suspense stories. Unsurprisingly, my two favorite stories in this anthology were by Dal Maclean and Josh Lanyon. Their mysteries were sharp and kept me on my toes, and their heroes were charmingly flawed and relatable.
I'm always a bit leery of anthologies since I'm not a fan of stories under 30 pages, but I couldn't pass up an m/m mystery anthology. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this was a collection of novellas not a short story anthology. I won't review each story individually because they were all exceptional. Nothing stands out as being much higher or lower quality than the others. They are all matched at a really good level. A must read for fans of the m/m mystery genre!
Anyone who likes m/m romance and mysteries should give this collection of stories a read.
As with any anthology, every story probably won’t appeal to every reader. This one had a pretty good success rate for me, though. Only one of the stories didn’t grab me, and that was less to do with the skill of the author than the premise not really matching my tastes.
In my opinion, the standout is Dal Maclean’s “A Country for Old Men.” Not only is the mystery more complex than some of the others, but I also loved the second chance romance. But what made it especially good was the main character’s struggle with his sexuality, which he tries to suppress in part because he doesn’t want to upset his religiously conservative parents. That aspect of the story added an extra layer of depth that wasn’t present in the other entries in the anthology.
• Josh Lanyon’s “A Stranger in the House” actually made me appreciate an instalove scenario,
• S.C. Wynne’s “Reality Bites” made death by tiger actually sound plausible, and
• Z.A. Maxfield’s “Pepper the Crime Lab” is a little on the quirky side, but that’s what made it memorable for me.
All in all, this collection left me wanting to try out the authors’ full-length works, so I consider it a success.
A copy of this book was provided through NetGalley for review; all opinions expressed are my own.
You get a lot of bang for the buck with Footsteps in the Dark. Eight decent sized novellas grace this sexy and interesting book all centered around a mystery . Overall an amazing treat that I absolutely enjoyed.
Entree to Murder by Nicole Kimberling: Centers around Drew a chef and Mac a police officer. When Drew's bartender is found dead in the basement of his restaurant, stabbed with one of his own kitchen knives he knows he is being set up! Fast paced and keeps you guessing!
Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry: This tale revolves around a space reporter and a law enforcement agent. This for me was not one of my favorites but I think it was due to theme. Blown up rockets and murder are the core of this story.
Reality bites by S,C. Wynne: A unique mystery revolving around the death of a reality show contestant, A policeman and the producer of the compromised show become romantically involved when murder throw them together. A great story-line and fast read!
Blinds Man Bluff by L.B. Gregg: I had a hard time believing the main character was an adult school teacher and not a teen. A game of capture the flag has some deadly consequences.. I had a hard time finishing this novella.
A Country For Old Men by Dal Maclean: This story was so touching and real. It simply blew me out of the water. Calum a police officer returns to his small and sheltered hometown to be near his parents. As they are getting older he feels responsible to be there for them, A long sought after treasure is the heartbeat behind this riveting mystery/romance. I absolutely loved it!
Pepper the Crime Lab by Z A Maxfield: Lonnie's neighbor is found dead and the murderer is setting him up to take the fall. Atop of everything else his other neighbor convinces him to take the dead man's dog home until they can find a new owner. Rick a former police officer who now works in security falls for Lonnie over dogs and murder. An adorable mystery/romance with a promise of a sexy HEA.
Lights, Camera, Murder by C.S. Poe: A private investigator Rory goes undercover on a movie set to find out who stole a valuable script. While trying to solve this mystery he falls hard for the handsome and sweet leading man.Marion. I could not put the book down and was sorry to see it end.
Stranger in The House by Josh lanyon: OK, I just love Josh ! Having her book complete this novel was a perfect way to finish this eclectic mix of male romances and mysteries. Miles, a kind gentle soul inherits a very expensive home from his godmother. Linly is his Godmother's son and an art dealer extraordinaire. Miles just so happens to have a bit of a crush on Lin. The men connect and their dynamics make them a true match. However strange things are happening! Valuable items seem to be disappearing from Mile's new home and another death happens on the marble staircase where his Godmother passed away. This story was hands down my favorite.
I highly recommend this eclectic mix of stories.. There is a little something for every reader in this wonderful mystery mix.
Reviews posted to Amazon, Good Reads, Kobo and Barnes and Noble.
I loved almost every single story on this anthology, and the ones that I didn't love, I liked very much.
So, let's go with each one of them.
Entrée to Murder by Nicole Kimberling
I really liked this one. The mystery is really well done, gripping and very entertaining. The strained relationship between Sam and Drew is the perfect background to all what's going on. Now, regarding the romance, I have only one complaint: after the original description of Big Mac, I couldn't help to picture him as Hoss Cartwright, from Bonanza. Do you remember him? Not the best image for a romance :P
Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry
Oh, I liked both, the mystery and the romance here. And I loved how smart is Justin :) I'm not a great fan of dual POV's, but then, that's me :P And it was a nice introduction to someone who is a new author for me.
Reality Bites by S.C. Wynne
Okay, full disclosure: I LOVE S.C. Wynne's writing. Truly love it. So I went to read this already knowing that I was in for a treat :P And, of course, the story didn't disappoint me. A very well done mystery, an opposites-attract romance with characters I really liked and a fabulous ending. What else could I wish?
Blind Man's Buff by L.B. Gregg
Okay, this reads like a horror movie. c'mon! Beautiful people stranded in a closed-off mall with a serial killer on the loose? Classical! The story is gripping, exciting and full of tension. Believable, as all the people participating in the game is at their peak physically. There is no romance, really. Except is you want to consider this as WORST FIRST DATE EVER. If it were been a date. Which wasn't, no matter what Tommy and Jonah where expecting :P
A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean
Hands down, my favourite story. Beautiful, mournful, permeated with a sense of loss almost until the very end, this is one of these stories that stay with you for a long, long time. The writing is simply gorgeous, poetic and evocative. The description of that town frozen in time is perfect; for moments you forget that this is going on at the present times, until something (a cell phone, a mention to Twitter) reminds you.
Calum's story is... heartbreaking. That he's willing to betray himself to fit in what he thinks is his destiny and his duty...
And those letters! Those letters that Calum is getting in his email and that seems to fit so well whit was going on!. Even the mystery is surrounded by lore and old stories. What can I say? It's wonderful. But then, it's a Dal Maclean's story :)
Pepper the Crime Lab by Z.A. Maxfied
And this one is the one I liked the less. Maybe coming after 'A Country for Old Men' has something to do with it, I don't know...
I really didn't engage with the characters and when one of the MCs is an ex-cop, now bodyguard, you'll expect that he'll be, at the very least, helping to solve the mystery. And yet... the mystery is solved by accident :/
Sorry, but not my cup of tea.
Lights, Camera, Murder by C.S. Poe
Another one of my favourite authors, and another great story. The characters are simply fantastic. And Marion! Oh, Marion is just... perfect! The mystery is really well done and keeps you wondering until the end, so masterly executed! And I love that is Marion, at the end, who saves the day (and Rory's life).
Another fantastic read, and I really, really hope will be seeing more of these two =D
Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon
Josh Lanyon is another favourite (yes, I'm a lucky girl, all of my favourites in one anthology :P), so it will come as no surprise at all that I loved this story, too. The setting is simply perfect: an old house, filled with childhood memories, that suddenly feels less than welcoming; an old crush who (maybe without even noticing) inflicted a life-defining hurt; a dead man at the bottom of a magnificent marble stair, crushed by a huge bronze sculpture; little objects missing...
And I was so wrong about the culprit! *laughs* Another excellent story :)
So, if you, for whatever reason, wasn't sure about going for this anthology, go for it! I can't recommend it more.
I really enjoyed this anthology, though some stories stood out, particularly Dal MacLean's and Z.A. Maxfield's. Overall the stories were well-written and intriguing. In many cases I was disappointed when they ended, because I wanted to spend more time with the characters. I will definitely look for more work from many of these authors.
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