Title: Laurel Heights
Author: Lisa Worrall
Publisher: White Stiletto Press
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: 369 pages
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
A guest review by Lasha
Summary Review: Two closeted cops go undercover in a gated gay community to investigate a murder-suicide that takes the reader on so many twists and turns, I wondered if I was on a ride at DisneyWorld.
Detectives Scott Turner and Will Harrison are sent undercover to dig beneath the surface and discover answers. There’s only one problem: Scott and Will are not out of the closet at work. Now they are two gay men, pretending to be straight, who must pretend to be gay in order to stop a murderer.
Will the two closeted officers be able to hide their attraction while believing the other is straight? And is the killer living among them waiting to claim his next victim?
CONTENT ADVISORY: This title includes scenes of dubious consent.
This is the fourth book by Lisa Worrall I have read. In Laurel Heights, we have police detectives Scott Turner and Will Harrison, who are not partners until they go undercover together. In fact, up until that point, they really don’t like each other and make no bones about it. Sent undercover by their captain to investigate a suspicious murder-suicide, the two men must pose as a gay couple to join the exclusive Laurel Heights community — a gated housing community where only gay couples live. There is a slight problem with this scenario as the two men, who are really gay, but play it straight in their jobs, must now act like a loving couple in public in order to find a killer in their midst. Will the secret passion they have for each other compromise their investigation or help it?
This novel combines a whole bunch of tropes I love: undercover cops, guys pretending to be gay boyfriends, and whose-the-killer mystery. From the beginning of the book, you could tell Will and Scott were fighting their attraction to one another. Despite the fact that each man thinks the other is straight, the underlying UST is there. Even their female partners, Julie and Grace can see the tension. As Scott and Will dive deeper into the kinky world of Laurel Heights where partner swapping and monthly community “meetings” (I would call those meetings more like a 1970’s key party/orgy rather than your typical homeowners association meeting) are the norm, you get the idea that the two closeted policemen are way over their heads on this case.
What I Liked About the Book
Will and Scott. Their chemistry was off the charts. By the time they had sex, all that UST had nearly melted my Kindle. Their evolution from work rivals to lovers made sense and was totally believable in the context of the plot.
Julie and Grace. Will and Scott’s partners, who know the truth about the guys (they’re gay and hot for each other). They take absolutely no crap from either man and actually felt like female police officers to me. (And yeah for secondary female characters who are awesome, professional and not bitches!)
Todd. He’s another secondary character that made you want to cry. He’s in an abusive relationship with the killer, and stuck not knowing how to leave without others getting hurt. His plight seemed realistic, just like many people who are in domestic violence situations, except Todd’s abuser is a raving psycho killer. (For those readers with triggers, the “scenes of dubious consent” deal with Todd and his violent lover, not with Will and Scott. However, in my estimation the “dubious consent” is actually rape. There is nothing dubious about it, and the rapes and beatings are quite violent.)
The pretend boyfriends plot. Wonderful. It played to the trope perfectly. See Will pretend to be straight. See Scott pretend to be straight also. Then, see Will and Scott pretend to be straight but play gay for the case! (So, of course they have to make out with each other. The trope wouldn’t be complete without that!) I loved, loved this part of the book.
What Needed Work in the Book
The action needed some editing. The POV shifts from Will and Scott were inter-spaced with the POV from the killer (who is not revealed until the end.) Too many POV shifts for me, and knowing what the killer was up to in advance took away a lot of the suspense of the mystery for me.
Twisty, surprise ending. Just when you think the book ends, it doesn’t. When the murderer is revealed and the reader thinks all the loose ends are tied up, then comes the wham-bam-surprise-twist that M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of.
Except it doesn’t work.
Without spoiling too much, right before the end of the novel, there is a wonderful resolution for all the characters. I wouldn’t call it a HEA, but more of a healing and bonding experience that is moving and lovely. That is shattered by the surprise mini-epilogue. While I liked the twisty ending in Ms. Worrall’s US Male (reviewed in the anthology Uniform Appeal), Laurel Heights did not need that added twist to make it scary or creepy.
Now everything does not have to be happy, happy, joy, joy for me to like a book. I was all set to give this book a 4 star rating until that popped up. Surprise endings can sometimes work (for example, The Crying Game twist was brilliant), but in Laurel Heights that wasn’t the case, I’m afraid.
So for readers who love undercover cops pretending to be gay for a case, psycho serial killers, kick-ass women cops and some real kinky group sex play that had me playing mental Twister in my head (whose hand is WHERE?), Laurel Heights is for you.
Recommended with slight reservations as discussed.
P.S. The author tells me the ending was needed to set up the next novel in the series. So with that explanation, I can understand it better since this will not be a stand-alone book.