Title & Link: Dance of Death
Author: Caroline Stephens
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Murder Mystery
Length: Novella (99 pages)
Rating 1.75 of 5 stars
A guest review by Buda
One-Sentence Review: Never send an Omega to do an Alpha’s job.
***This review contains what might be considered spoilers.***
When FBI Agent Cole Stanton is assigned to a murder investigation, he’s shocked to discover he has a personal connection to it. Someone stabbed Russian ballerina Irina Markhov with an ornate dagger, and the prime suspect is Alexei Valchikovsky, principal dancer with the ballet…and Cole’s ex-lover.
It was Alexei’s mentor, Anton Stolin, who broke them up, and the man has secrets–secrets Cole suspects are connected to Irina’s murder. Cole’s gut instinct tells him Alexei’s murky past is intruding on the present, but neither expects the link between then and now to threaten their very lives.
Cole Stanton transferred to the New York FBI field office eight weeks ago. Now, because of a raging flu outbreak, he’s being handed his first case as primary, the investigation into the murder of a Russian ballerina.
Alexei Valchikovsky sees Cole’s re-entry to his life as the opportunity to get him back. When Cole left him six months earlier, Alexei didn’t fight for him; but he will now.
The history between Cole and Alexei is somewhat murky. They lived together for six months, they’ve been apart six months. No idea how long they were together before they moved in (Second Date: U-Haul?). Alexei is single-minded in his pursuit of Cole, who sort of, kind of tries to keep his mind on the investigation and push Alexei away. For about three hours.
The murder mystery is not given any wings (which is why I listed it second in genre above). The suspect list is extremely limited and the reveal is unsurprising, nor is the melodrama that follows.
What Did Not Work For Me:
As readers, we’re abstractly aware that there’s more involved to good writing than merely sitting down at a keyboard and letting the words flow; it is only when we come across something in our own field that jars in its inaccuracy that we really notice if the proper research has been done. In this case it has not. The author has chosen to make her victim and the majority of the cast of characters of Russian descent or abstraction. It would have been beneficial for her to have conducted further research into the formation of Russian names, which are used wrongly here. For example, in several places a “Mikhail Komerovskaia” is mentioned. His surname would be Komerovski, while his wife Sofia would be Komerovskaia. The victim would be Irina Markhova, not Markhov.
Again on the subject of research, I willingly plead ignorance of crime science. However, some details of the crime scene seemed unlikely. Irina was dead for several hours before her body is discovered (as the crew are testing a trapdoor). It is unclear if the body dropped from above or pulled a jack-in-the-box when the trapdoor was sprung. However, even though she wasn’t killed in that spot, her body leaves “a sea of congealed blood” at center stage. The body is covered by a sheet that Cole’s boss removes to show him the corpse, and no crime scene investigators are mentioned until pages later when they are said to have already departed.
As Cole and Alexei talk on the stage, someone tries to kill one or both of them. They land atop each other on the stage floor and indulge in a rutting kiss. “Cole’s instincts screamed for him to do his job and race up into the rafters, but he knew, deep down, Alexei was probably right. The perpetrator would be long gone, escaping the moment the lighting unit was loosened, and if he was honest, he wanted this. He made a token protest. ‘Alexei. Let me go.'” Of course, Alexei kisses him again; Cole never makes it up to the rafters.
There is an honest-to-god Goldilocks moment: “Alexei fiddled with the taps, adjusting the temperature of the water until it was just right–not too hot and not too cold.”
The “why-I-killed-them-and-will-now-kill-you” confession scene took 14% of the book. During this scene, Cole makes the final transition from Beta to Omega.
What Did Work For Me:
The sex scenes are kinda hot, especially if you like lovin’ in the shower.
As this is the author’s first published work, and I have knowledge about Russian culture that, presumably, the majority of readers do not casually possess, I’ve added an additional .75 to my initial rating. The descriptive writing is not bad, though I would have preferred more of an actual search for the killer, complete with red herrings. Dialogue is sometimes awkward and far-fetched. The good news is this is a first published work. My recommendation: wait for the second work.