The Heart of the Jungle

Title: The Heart of the Jungle
Author: Jeremy Pack
Cover art: Catt Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: The Heart of the Jungle Amazon.com
Length: novel/250 PDF pages/79,418 words
Genre: GLBT/Mystery/Suspense
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

A guest review by LadyM

Review summary: Well-written mystery/suspense that suffers from a case of “tell, not show”. In spite of its flaws, the book is a refreshing addition to the genre.

Blurb: Chris James is Fate’s favorite plaything. When She took his parents in a car crash, Chris narrowly escaped the grief with his life, and he has the scars on his wrists to prove it. Seven years later, just as his life is finally turning around, Fate smashes his universe once again, taking his partner and two-year-old daughter and leaving behind a bloodbath.

After nearly a year of investigation, with no bodies, no motive, and no clues, the police are giving up. Enter Jason Kingsley, a wickedly handsome private investigator with a troubled past and a disconnected puzzle piece he could never find a place for. Jason has his work cut out for him: his search leads down a road that was never meant to be traveled, where a ruthless and hidden enemy lurks and dark secrets await. With passion drawing them together and sinister forces threatening to tear them apart, Chris and Jason race against time to unravel the mystery and get to the shocking truth that lies behind it all: The Heart of the Jungle.

Review:

My ongoing romance with mysteries started during one summer while I was in junior high when I read two dozen of Agatha Christie’s novels. When I started reading gay fiction/romance, my love for mysteries followed me. From Dave Brandstetter to Adrien English, from Donald Strachey to Stanley Kroski, there is something so appealing, something that kicks ass out of the most blatant stereotypes in the gay man who is tougher, meaner, smarter than some very tough, mean and smart bad guys. So, when a new author who writes mysteries appears in our little corner of the publishing world, you can bet that I will jump right at him. Well… his book, anyway. 😀 At this point, I have to admit that my initial enthusiasm about the book played a small part in the final rating of this story.

A couple of warnings first. This is not a romance. There are some romantic elements in the book which are used as a plot device, but go into this book with realistic expectations and enjoy it for what it is – a mystery. Second, I was personally disgruntled by the publisher’s choice of the book cover (not the quality of it, but the content), so much so that I wanted to omit it completely from the review. Realistically, I had to conclude that people interested in buying this book will see it, so I advise you to engage in short memory loss, because the cover reveals one of the story lines – in short, it is a major spoiler.

The author has an excellent writing style for this genre – clean, unobtrusive – that eases you right into the story. And the story starts strongly with Christian James, columnist for a lifestyle magazine, coming home to find it turned into a crime scene. His house is covered in blood and, although his partner and his daughter are missing, the police conclude that they were murder victims. Fast forward one year. Without any clues or suspects, the police are closing the case. Without any hope or closure, brokenhearted Chris decides to end it all and take his life. But before he even tries he is visited by Jason Kingsley, a former FBI agent, now private investigator, who witnessed Chris’s meltdown in the police station. He has a piece of information for Chris, a tidbit left from one of his previous cases, which may be connected to the disappearance of Chris’s family.

At this point, I was hooked on the story and intrigued by the characters. But I soon started having trouble staying focused on the story. I had to take frequent breaks. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why that was at first. I thought that the conspiracy Chris and Jason were trying to uncover was contrived (or, as the author says, “elaborate”), but the author explained why was that necessary. I had trouble with the characterization and, especially, Chris’s behavior, but the author explained that too. And then it hit me – that was exactly my problem. Throughout the novel the author tells things to us, explains them to us, instead of showing them to us. This created a distance from the characters, and although they should have been sympathetic, especially Chris who had suffered so much, I found it difficult to understand them, to understand some of their actions. I couldn’t help thinking that The Heart of the Jungle would have been a great movie where the actors’ expressions and movie images would supplement the emotional content. I don’t want to imply that there were no great emotional moments in the book: the scene where Chris tells Jason how it felt to have a daughter come into his life left me really choked up. However, I had a hard time believing in their connection, especially the fact that Jason falls in love with Chris within two or three days after meeting him.

Perhaps my biggest complaint comes from the fact that somewhere half way through the novel the story gets a big boost from Chris’s TSTL (too stupid to live) moment. After a falling-out with Jason, an angry Chris does the stupidest thing possible, endangering more than his own life, which drives the novel to the very end. I wished that the events, including some incredible twists and turns that follow, would have developed more naturally. Additionally, the development of the protagonists is rather static. In Jason’s case, it happens somewhat through his interaction with Chris, but the main change occurred through a coincidental meeting that makes him reevaluate his past in the FBI. In Chris’s case, the main changes happened off-page, in the period between the ending of the novel and the epilogue. Among the secondary characters, I especially liked Jason’s former colleague Frank. The conclusion of the story was very exciting and it kept me on the edge of my seat.

As I said at the beginning, a small part of my criticism stems from the high expectations I had after reading the great beginning of this story. I recognize that your experience will also depend on your mileage in the mystery genre. It’s quite possible that your impressions will be significantly different than mine. The author has a great command of language and obviously a lot of imagination. In fact, considering that this is his first novel, I suspect that Jeremy Pack will be a wonderful addition to the genre.

10 comments

  • I wanted to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude to you for this insightful critique, LadyM. I am so grateful for the care and gentle touch that went into it. I’ve always maintained that compliments build confidence, but critique builds skill. Your review has honored me with both in equal measure, and that means a great deal to me.

    I’ve learned much in the months since I fearfully hit the “send” button on this submission—the courage it takes to face a publisher’s rejection is nothing compared to the dread of letting a reader down. This thoughtful review goes a long way toward guiding me around stumbling points in my future efforts. (Timely, since I’ve just begun work on my third submission to Dreamspinner.)

    Thank you again! I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you took a chance on me—a new author—and chose to review my book with such care. It means more than I can say.

    Jeremy

    PS: Please hold Dreamspinner blameless for the cover. That was all my doing. You’re right. I totally deserve a swift kick in the shorts for that one (you can even pick the side). What was I thinking? 😕

    • Hello, Jeremy! Sometimes I fear that I will send an author screaming in horror, so I’m glad that wasn’t the case here. 🙂 And I’m glad you had the courage to hit that send button, because it’s always a pleasure to read a new author and especially in one of my favorite genres. Also, that reporter/astronaut story I’ve read about on your site looks delicious and I’m looking forward to reading it.

  • Great review LadyM

    I really enjoyed this book, I loved the writing, loved the story.

    The only thing that sucked was when real life got in the way and I had to put it down…I was never bored with this book.

    Yes a little more romance would of been nice but hey I can’t always get what I want.

    I rated it a 4.5 at goodreads.

    • Hi, Jaime! I’m so glad that you loved the book. And, yes, real life has a way of interfering with great books. I’m sure we will see much more from this author.

  • Oooooo I started this one yesterday – and as you said right now I am hooked. I guess it is good to be prepared for some possible disappointments . Really like the writing right now. And and since you mentioned this character – I just ordered me some complete Brandstetter. Squeek.

    • Hi, Sirius! The writing is great and I think you’ll like the book. I have a case of “read too much mysteries for her own good”, I think. But, regardless how you feel about the book in the end, we just got another author to watch for in the future. 🙂

      Awww, I only have the first three books. I have to complete the series at some point. But, I think you will like Dave – he is one cool customer.

      • Okay, I finished, definitely an author to watch. Here is what I thought – I never felt disconnected with main characters, while I saw some tell v show issues, it was no that bad for me. I even forgave Chris his TSTL moment – his mental state to me may have caused even more stupid actions, I totally got how he was not in the straight thinking mood.

        However, however in a sense I had a “too many mysteries being read for my own good” case as well. I do not read primarily mysteries these days, especially in mm I divide my attention pretty equally between mysteries, historicals and fantasy/scifi, but I have read a whole lot too at some point.

        The main villain was so hilariously obvious for me, it is not even funny. But I cant even blame the author, because honestly very few mystery authors can surprise me with the villain reveal these days, feels like I know every general twist that exists, not in a sense that I know plot, but to me it is almost always clear how the author attempts to redirect attention from the character, how I know that the villain should not be the new character and thus not many candidates left, especially in mm mysteries, where main characters are excluded right away.

        But as long as plot is fun and characters are sympathetic I will enjoy it anyway and thats what I did.

        I also want to mention something to you in offlist email.

        • Hey, Sirius, I’m glad the characters worked better for you. And I hear you about the villain, the foreshadowing is difficult to pull, especially with the readers who’ve “seen it all”.

          I sent you the e-mail. 🙂

    • Lady M

      Wonderful review as always. I’m looking forward to reading this book because I love mysteries.

      Sirius I have the complete Brandstetter which is 12 stories – 1200 pages of very, very fine print. 🙂 The stories are fascinating.

      I think you will like The Heart of the Jungle.

      • I only heard about Brandstetter rather recently – discovered from Teddy Pig’s blog and bought book one separately, but then saw complete collection and even though it is out of print, I bought it from one of amazon sellers, definitely much cheaper than buying them separately

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