Title: Bittersweet Candy Kisses (All Petit Morts Stories)
Author: Josh Lanyon
Cover Artist: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books LLC
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M suspense
Length: short story (14K words)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Carey Gardner receives an enormous box of chocolates from a secret admirer for Valentine’s Day. Being a pretty straightforward kind of guy, Carey’s not really comfortable with expensive presents from persons unknown, and he’s less comfortable when his friends Ben and Heath tell him the story about a serial killer who once stalked the Hartsburg College campus.
Not that Carey really believes his secret admirer is up to anything very sinister—besides, he’s already got enough problems falling for Walter Sterne, a brilliant but socially awkward grad student. Carey’s friends are warning him against Walter, and even Walter isn’t very encouraging.
Sometimes life really is like a box of chocolates.
Twenty three year old Carey Gardner was studying hard for his degree in anthropology unlike his dorm mate Sty whose middle name should have been ‘party all the time’. Consequently it was difficult for Carey to study in his room so he spent most of his time either in the library or with Heath and Ben, his friends across the hall. One evening Sty gave him a box of very expensive chocolates that had been delivered for him. There was no card or any indication of the identity of his secret admirer, but a gift of chocolates is not a throwaway therefore Carey shared them with Heath and Ben. This presented an opportunity for the guys to tell Carey about the Valentine’s Day Killer who supposedly sent chocolates to females on campus decades ago and in each case the next morning they would be found stabbed to death. Was it an urban legend or was there some truth to the story? Were the chocolates a prank or was there something sinister going on?
Later that evening Carey felt uneasy as he walked to the library because he remembered the story of the Valentine’s Day Killer and when he arrived he saw Walter Sterne who had been looking for him earlier. Carey had a crush on Walter, a brilliant grad student who was a Teaching Assistant in Advanced Ethnographic Field Methods. Walter had been helpful in getting Carey into the class but although he was grateful he was also attracted to Walt the person – perhaps because he was so different from anyone else. He was withdrawn, had no friends and definitely was not an easy person to know. When Carey pressed Walt for the reason he had been trying to find him it turned out to be pretty simple. Walt wanted to take him on a date. Being the pushy sort, Carey suggested that they go right away, but on the way to the car it didn’t seem like such a good idea since Walt appeared to regret his impulsive invitation, so Carey cancelled the date and they parted company. Going back to the residence there was no one else around because of the late hour and Carey felt even more on edge and was sure someone was following him. Because he was scared and not paying attention to where he was going he tripped and fell, or he might have been pushed, and broke his wrist. The next day when Carey saw Walt in class he was very concerned about the injury and his obvious distress led to them going back to Walt’s room for some comfort and R & R. 🙂
This book was pretty creepy and Walt didn’t help matters by appearing to be cold and unfeeling, but because I like complex people I found him to be the most intriguing character in the story. He definitely was not pleasant and I know that many readers will be put off by him, but if you dig deep there is that vulnerable kernel that I always look for in a character. Carey was very likable and seemed to be mostly on the surface although he was ambitious. He was also discerning enough to see beneath the layers and defense mechanisms that Walt erected like a “keep out” sign.
The mystery of the secret admirer was solved and the suspect who might or might not have pushed Carey was unmasked, so there were no loose ends and Carey and Walt realized that maybe they had something going for them as they walked off into the sunset, maybe. 🙂
I really liked Slings and Arrows because it was character driven like all of Josh Lanyon’s stories and it had a good mystery as well as a potential love story.