Title: In the Flesh (Flesh #1)
Author: Ethan Stone
Publisher: DSP Publications
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: Novel (300 print pages)
Rating: 4.75 of 5 stars
A guest review by Buda
One-Sentence Review: A fantastic, non-stop ride into the world of framed-for-murder Reno Homicide Detective Cristian Flesh.
Reno Detective Cristian Flesh lives his life by a strict set of personal rules, preferring one-time flings and anonymous encounters to committed relationships. His rules work for him… until his life is turned upside down when first, a former lover, a famous televangelist, is attacked, and then one of his one-night stands is murdered, making Cristian the prime suspect.
When handsome lawyer Colby Maddox takes his case, Cristian finds himself wanting to break all his rules about relationships. The instant attraction between them is undeniable. But before they can contemplate any kind of future together, they’ll have to clear Cristian’s name by finding the real murderer.
Cristian Flesh is a man with flaws and issues, so deeply buried he manages them by living his life by a set of carefully constructed–and numbered–rules (“Rule number seventeen: Do it right, or don’t do it at all.”). He takes sex where he wants it and on his own terms–as sex only, no emotions–as rough and dirty as he can get it. His partner on the force, Alexandra “Lex” Luther, is his only close friend–and he keeps her as much at a distance as possible. But when Cris is arrested for the murder of his latest one-night stand, Lex hires a family-friend attorney to get him off.
Colby Maddox is a large man in all aspects–personality, confidence, size. He takes Flesh’s case and immediately gets our hero sprung from lockup on his own recognizance–even though Flesh’s previous representation, a public defender with a horrific stammer, tried to get Flesh to accept a plea bargain. He keeps his interactions with Flesh professional but not formal. And, of course, Flesh wants him. Colby doesn’t seem a mystery, though the story is told from Flesh’s 1st person perspective. We learn of Colby’s past, a bit about his family and his work. What we don’t see is him at work in the courtroom.
Almost a third of the book passes before Colby makes his appearance. In that time, we learn something about Flesh’s life, including his connection to the televangelist. We also see Flesh in, well, flesh action with the trick he is subsequently accused of murdering and, later, with another man. The story alternates between Flesh’s case and his budding relationship with Colby. Once the relationship begins, and Flesh accepts that it may be more than a fling, the rules of his life become a stumbling block. (Rule number three: No sleepovers.) The cast is large and varied, with interesting dynamics explored when necessary. Though the case against Flesh is resolved long before the end of the book, the mystery is not completely resolved then.
What Did Work:
Characterization is strong in this work. Each of the important characters feels genuine. Flesh’s character development is brilliantly handled. Never does Stone lose the essence of Cristian Flesh. Cristian doesn’t throw away all the rules after one hallelujah-and-fireworks orgasm. He’s still a man with major issues on a journey, taking it one small uncomfortable step at a time.
The story revolves so much around action that periods of self-reflection are few and short-lived. Flesh knows who he is and why, though we do not. We are given clues, of course, especially in his rules, each of which must certainly be a reaction to some experience in his history. Unfortunately, Rule Number Six: “I never talk about my past.”
Once the pair begin to pursue a relationship, it becomes clear Colby has issues being out in public. Flesh, who has always been out on the force, has a difficult time understanding and dealing with Colby’s reluctance to come out. To his credit, and in true Flesh fashion, he doesn’t push Colby, just makes his irritation known. This is really the only source of angst in the book and it is used wisely and well.
What Didn’t Work:
At one point, Flesh pays a visit to a man who had roughed up his friend Gabe. Although the scene fits Flesh’s personality given what we can gauge from his past, it didn’t seem realistic to me, given his position on the police force. If the man had wanted to do so, he could have used it as ammunition against Flesh and the department.
The second* time Flesh and Colby have sex, Colby doesn’t use a condom. Flesh says, “I have condoms, if you want them.” Thus follows the traditional “I’m clean” conversation. Considering Flesh’s appetite for random and anonymous sex, it seems out of character for him to willingly engage in bareback sex, especially with someone for whom he has no feelings, only desire.
This book is amazingly good. The action was so non-stop I felt as though I’d been strapped into Colby’s 1956 Corvette and hurtled at maximum speed around a Formula 1 course. Thankfully, Ethan Stone was in total control of his characters and their story. If you’re looking for a solid story with characters who go on a journey while dealing with outside forces stacked against them, one that is short on angst and long on action, then this one is for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it and eagerly look forward to more from this very talented author.