A guest review by Jenre
A mystery with an initially interesting premise and characters but which had rather too many problems for me to wholeheartedly recommend it.
Max Lancaster’s neighbor–his muse, the young ballerina Elena–has gone missing. Between secrets from his past and the fact that he’s altering his paintings in his sleep, Max is worried that he’s lost his mind. By the time forensic artist Sumner Ellison arrives as part of the investigation even Max can see himself in the role of “person of interest.”
Sumner Ellison doesn’t believe that Max killed Elena, yet he isn’t certain Max is entirely sane. Sumner offers Max oblivion in bed and unflinching honesty. Max takes what Sumner offers, losing himself in the younger man’s body while hiding his heart from Sumner’s love.
When doubt pulls them apart, it takes the all of Max’s passion and the purity of Sumner’s faith to find answers create a love that won’t fade away over time.
The start of this mystery romance showed a great amount of promise. Artist Max is famous for his paintings of 16 year old ballerina, Elena. He delights in showing the tough musculature and ruined feet behind the beauty and gracefulness of the dance, and his pictures demand high sums of money. As the story begins, Elena is missing and Max is worried not only about her, but also about his sleepwalking where he appears to be rising during the night and altering his paintings, sometimes to horrifying effect. The police send Sumner, a forensic artist, to Max so that he can draw up a picture of a young man seen by Max and Elena’s grandma shortly before she disappeared. Sumner had met Max briefly a few years earlier when Max performed a few lectures at Sumner’s art college. At that time Sumner developed a crush on Max, and it isn’t long before his crush develops into something more, especially as Max returns Sumner’s feelings.
I had rather a mixed response to this book. The parts I liked related to the initial premise and the idea that, for most of the book, we are never wholly sure whether Max is the murderer or not. As the book unfolds, several pieces of information link Max with the possibility that he could have killed Elena whilst sleepwalking, and even Max is convinced at one point that he is a killer. I liked being kept in the dark this way and it gave the book an edgy, unsettled tone. Another part I liked was Max’s profession and the way that the author uses this to heighten the tension within the mystery, especially as his muse is a teenage girl with all the emotion that brings.
The part that didn’t work as well for me is in the relationship between Max and Sumner. Sumner’s relationship to Max at the beginning of the book is akin to hero worship, which is understandable given Max’s fame. However, as the story continues, I didn’t feel that Sumner’s feelings developed more than that. They spend quite a short amount of time with each other before declaring their love and I didn’t really understand what Sumner sees in Max other than a celebrated artist whose work he admires. Another oddity was Sumner’s insistence that Max is innocent, especially when he often belies that by panicking when he hears otherwise or sees evidence that he may not be. It seemed strange that Sumner should have such absolute faith in Max after such a short acquaintance, even if he does have a crush on him. This was also the case for Max’s love of Sumner. I never really understood why he loves Sumner other than as a response to the hero worship and perhaps because Sumner has such faith in him and refuses to lie to Max. The heroes come together during a time of great stress, and I suppose during those times it becomes necessary to cling onto love and affection – which may be another reason why the men fall so quickly in love with each other. It didn’t make me hopeful, though, for a long lasting relationship between Max and Sumner.
There were also a couple of other parts, such as the way Max seemed to be able to paint far quicker than I would expect for an artist, and Sumner’s involvement in the case beyond that of forensic artist, which didn’t gel well and pulled me out of the story when I was forced to consider whether what had just happened in the book was actually possible and realistic .
I’m a great fan of ZA Maxfield, and some of things I love about her writing, such as how her dialogue is able to convey a wealth of emotion, and her delightfully tender sex scenes, were present in this book, as was an extremely well drawn and nuanced secondary character in Lieutenant Cruz – who I was pleased to find wasn’t pigeon-holed into the ‘inconsiderate and inept cop’ role. However, these and the other parts that I liked weren’t enough to overcome the problems I had with the book making this an average read only.