Author: Chris T. Kat
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 244 pages
Rating: B List
Blurb: A Jeff Woods Mystery
Detective Jeff Woods and his partner have a new case. Someone has been making threatening phone calls to the mayor’s daughter, vowing to kill her disabled child. Though there have been accidents at the girl’s school—enough to take the threats seriously—the facts are few, and leads are sparse.
Needing a breather from the burden of the case, Jeff heads to a bar, where he meets Alex Fisher. Alex isn’t his type, but he’s young and cocky and perfect for a one-night stand. Or two. Soon Jeff starts thinking about how difficult and lonely it is being a cop, and that maybe Alex could fill a void in his life. But Alex has his own obligations: a disabled brother who is the target of threatening letters.
Jeff isn’t sure he’s ready to play house or overcome his prejudices, but he begins to think Alex might be worth it. Caught between his growing affection and his inner demons, Jeff struggles to focus on the case and protect Alex and his brother as the danger builds.
Review: As a hard-core fan of the M/M mystery sub-genre, I was very excited about reading Attachment Strings, the first in the Jeff Woods series by Chris T. Kat. On the whole, this first novel is a solid start to the series (with a few exceptions) that leaves enough unresolved elements that I’m looking forward to reading the second installment to find out what happens next for Jeff, Alex, and Sean, as well as Jeff’s pudgy partner Parker and his new love interest!
First off, let me say that I think the author makes a brave choice in writing this series in first person POV from Jeff’s perspective. I say this because for much of the book Jeff is a very hard person to like. I respect Chris T. Kat taking on the challenge of presenting us with a gay main character who is not an idealistic embodiment of equal rights. Jeff is a flawed and bigoted man (in this case, toward those who are disabled)— although it takes him a while to realize this about himself. Consequently, this makes for some very uncomfortable reading in places because we are getting Jeff’s perspective, which is very openly disgusted while working on a case involving death threats toward disabled children.
“Mrs. Anderson smiled tenderly at her daughter and brushed a curl away from the child’s forehead. Love emanated from the woman, stunning me into silence. How could she love someone so distorted, someone who was and would forever be a burden, so much? Suddenly, I asked myself why I couldn’t find someone to look at me like that.”
We get access to many thoughts like this from Jeff throughout the story, making it very hard to relate to him and his ignorance. However, Jeff’s attitude does not go unchallenged in the narrative, especially when the case he is working on intersects in complicated ways with his love life.
An in-the-closet-at-work detective, Jeff doesn’t do relationships and instead seeks out one-night stands to satisfy his needs, often going as far afield as New York or Philadelphia so as not to be seen by any of his colleagues. When he decides to scope out a gay bar closer to home one night, he encounters Alex—a much younger man who is not his usual type. But Alex manages to persuade him into a night of passion that Jeff can’t forget about afterward. Inevitably, the two come into contact again and begin a turbulent relationship that is complicated by the fact that Alex is sole guardian to his younger disabled brother, Sean.
Alex is a pivotal force in the narrative in humanizing Jeff. It is clear that Jeff has become desensitized to the violence and death he sees on a regular basis in his job. He has become so detached that feeling much of anything is surprising to him. This is partly why he is dumbfounded and annoyed by his interest in Alex and the hidden desires they bring forth—especially the need to be loved. Alex makes Jeff start to feel again, but it doesn’t happen without a struggle. Jeff wants to deny his feelings for the younger man, especially when he realizes Alex and Sean come as a package deal.
Alex deals with Jeff’s domineering behavior, attitude issues, and initial disgust toward Sean with far more composure and equanimity than seems realistic at times. He’s definitely a far more likeable character than Jeff, but we get less insight into him and his thoughts because the narrative is told from Jeff’s POV. Alex is not a total doormat, thankfully. Although he forgives a lot of bad behavior from Jeff, he’s very firm when it comes to his brother and the fact that Sean will always come first. He makes this clear but still tries to make things work with Jeff. He clearly sees something in Jeff that he is willing to hold out for.
A lot of Chris T. Kat’s skill here is in making the reader also slowly start to see there is something worthwhile about Jeff to make us care about him. Over the course of the novel, small tidbits of information about and glimpses into Jeff’s past are revealed that begin to make it clearer why Jeff has deeper underlying problems that he himself is not fully aware of. It was these fleeting revelations that made me want to learn more about Jeff, and made me start to feel more empathy toward him as a character despite my problems with his abhorrent thoughts at times. Furthermore, it was his burgeoning relationship with Alex, and his changing attitude toward Sean, that made me believe he had the potential to be a redeemable character and kept me reading. By the end of the novel I felt a lot more disposed to like Jeff and want to continue seeing how he evolves from a fundamentally flawed and unlikeable man into the kind of partner and protector both Alex and Sean need in their lives.
The novel ends on a climactic note with a number of new developments that pave the way for the sequel. The resolution is still relatively satisfying—not a total cliffhanger—but there are several unanswered questions that we will no doubt have to wait to learn more about it the next book. I am also looking forward to seeing more of Jeff’s detective partner Parker and his love interest. We get some sneak peeks in the first book that raised a number of interesting speculations for me that I can’t wait to see what happens with them in the sequel!
There were a few elements that were problematic for me in the story, beyond Jeff’s bigoted thoughts, which are hard to read. For me, the romance between Jeff and Alex went from stalled to all systems go a little too fast to be entirely believable. I would have liked to see a bit more development here. The same could be said for Jeff’s change of heart toward Sean, which is precipitated by his feelings for Alex. While I understand why he started to view Sean differently, I thought the transition was too rapid to be realistic. I think the next book will be very important in expanding upon this new dynamic, as Sean will no doubt become a bigger part of Jeff’s life. Finally, although the mystery was interesting its resolution was fairly predictable (I spotted the killer quickly and there weren’t any other real contenders to make the reader uncertain about whodunit). I like a bit more complexity than this, but all in all these are first novel foibles I’m willing to overlook at the beginning of a series. I hope to see the author fully hit her groove in the next book in this new and promising series!
Reviewed by Sparks