Dance of Death

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.***

The Blurb:

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.

The Review:

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.


  • I’m not Russian so all that inconsistency would have sailed over my head. However, I do get very irritated at so called law officers who spend far too much time trying to get into the pants of either the victim or the suspect, rather that doing their damn job, so I think I probably wouldn’t have liked this story very much.

    Thanks for the great review, Buda.

    • Hi, Jen, thanks. Yes, that rutting kiss was the first time I wanted to throw the thing. I kept saying (aloud even!), “Are you kidding me? Dude, there’s a killer up there. Hello! Dude? Killer! Ah, for the love of…!” It was so ill-timed, I couldn’t even care about the kiss or the depth of emotion.

  • Research! Please! There have been many times I have been ROFLMAO over what writers think computer programmers do. And how fast they can do it.

    • Celeste, are you saying you can’t save the world through programming in under 2.5 seconds? I am so disillusioned now! I may never be able to sleep again! lol

      Let’s face it, researching is a bitch. It just is. Unless it’s so fascinating it leads to learning things one never intended to learn. Of course, I always have been susceptible to shiny things.

      My point…oh right…was that I sympathize with anyone who hates doing the research; but it has to be done.

  • Buda

    This is a wonderful review and I hope that the author takes to heart your point about research, which is one of the reasons a lot of books fail to engage the readers. I’m aware of your background in Russian history so I know how this book would grate. 🙁

    The points about the crime scene investigation is something that would make me do a double take because I love murder mysteries and am quite fond of the genre. Also, having sex at a possible crime scene immediately after an attempt on your life seems a bit improbable.

    This is a first book but there’s no excuse IMO for inadequate research.

    • Thanks, Wave. You know this was a difficult review for me to write. I don’t want to feel like I’m inflicting pain on any author and I would probably be crushed to receive a score this low.

      The research angle does lead me to wonder about the role of the publisher in this process. I haven’t the foggiest idea how it works, but I can’t help but think some of this could/should have been caught in edits. Of course the research should be done by the writer. I guess I’ll have to ask someone how it all works. Unless, of course, you have a post about this hidden somewhere on the site…. 😉

      • Buda

        I guess I’ll have to ask someone how it all works. Unless, of course, you have a post about this hidden somewhere on the site…. 😉

        Treva Harte did a post sometime ago on her Livejournal about editing and how it works. I’ll see if I can find it but I’m not sure it covered research that should have been done by an author. 🙁

  • Oh goodness, if you are writing a story where different cultural traditions are involved why at least would you not try to get some basics right. I’m very well familiar with russian culture, so I suspect this story would make me want to throw it against the wall, thus I would much rather avoid it. Thanks for the review.

    • The only reason this one didn’t end up against the wall was because I was reading it on the Kindle and Wave said she would neither be held responsible for a destroyed ereader nor buy me another one–which is just rude, really. 😉

  • I’ve had that experience myself. Things other people don’t notice that I’m close to that make you go “hey, that’s not right”. Kind of ruins it for you. 14% for “Why I did it” seems a bit much. I think I’ll take your advice and pass for now.

    • Thanks, Tam. I really tried not to let it bother me, but just couldn’t make it happen. The confession scene dragged for me. I would have liked it better if we’d’ve been able to piece these things together along the way, but that would have made it a much longer book.


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