Title: Eye Contact (The Mark Manning Mysteries 2)
Author: Michael Craft
Cover art: Mumtaz Mustafa
Publisher: Open Road Media
Buy link: Buy Link Eye Contact: 2 (The Mark Manning Mysteries)
Length: Novel/342 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A review by LadyM
Review summary: A more mature book than its predecessor.
Blurb: Chicago Journal reporter Mark Manning has been called in to replace a colleague on a big story. Famed Swiss astrophysicist Pavo Zarnik has just stunned the science world with his announcement that he’s discovered a tenth planet in our solar system. Manning is skeptical of Zarnik’s claims and believes he’s a fraud. His suspicions grow when his fellow reporter—award-winning journalist Clifford Nolan—turns up dead, his laptop missing.
Now, Manning is covering two breaking stories and coping with the not-entirely-unwanted advances of twenty-something reporter David Bosch. In a committed relationship with architect Neil Waite, Manning is determined to resist temptation. But he soon has bigger things to worry about. On the edge of a far-reaching political conspiracy, Manning matches wits with a killer whose agenda is about to become chillingly clear.
Two years after the events in Flight Dreams, Mark and Neil live together. They just finished renovation of their loft, Mark is still a star of Chicago Journal, Neil works in the organization of the city’s Celebration Two Thousand. Life is good. But, Mark gets an assignment which, at first, doesn’t appeal to him – to basically cover a science story, an alleged discovery of the tenth planet. His editor also gives him an assistant: a handsome, young reporter David Bosch who suffers from hero worship. The case of the tenth planet, the death of the reporter who was originally assigned to the story and temptation in a form of a young man all conspire to make Mark’s life complicated, to say the least.
Eye Contact is, in many ways, a better book than its predecessor. The story is once again told in present tense, but the writing is tighter, more mature and the dialogue more believable. The mystery and Mark’s private life are this time intertwined, rather than being separated. The characters are better fleshed out, though there is still room for progress there. Even Mark’s dreams are used better to show the temptations he’s facing, subconscious examination of his relationship with Neil, and his guilt. But, what impressed me the most is that the author demonstrated an exceptional eye for detail which was not the case in the previous novel. Whether they are in descriptions of surroundings (for example, Nathan Cain’s offices) or characters, these details really have impact on the overall story. Additionally, Mark, our protagonist, is more likable this time. His smugness is toned down and he is not as judgmental towards people he doesn’t agree with. But, he has more growing up to do – the rationalizations concerning his infidelity irritated me and I’m certain other readers will feel the same. Also, the way the author resolved the situation – off page – wasn’t what I hoped for. I wanted to see Mark work to get back into Neil’s good graces.
As with the first time, the mystery was interesting. The author provided us with multiple suspects and motives. Some of these secondary characters were especially colorful, like Pavo Zarnik, Lucille Haring or an Elvis-impersonating neighbor of Mark’s murdered colleague. Mark follows the leads on both cases – the tenth planet fraud and murder of Cliff Nolan – with the help of some of his friends and then the cases collide and lead him to the explosive revelation. It’s over the top but entertaining. The James Bond type ending might be too much for some readers. I still don’t really know how to feel about it. The element of the mystery I was least satisfied with was the villain’s motivation. It’s hard to discuss this without revealing too much, but I have to at least mention it. The conspiracy that Mark uncovers is worthy of the craziest fanatics and the author didn’t convince me that this man was crazy enough to do something like this for such a weak reason. For power? Definitely. But, not for this. The character that was introduced as intriguing and mysterious turned into a diabolical figure – hence the comparison to the Bond villain’s. His partners in crime made his actions even less believable. However, although it was published 15 years ago, his motive puts an interesting up-to-date spin on the story.
Eye Contact is a satisfying continuation of the Mark Manning series. The improvements in writing, storytelling and characterization compared to the first novel are significant. Considering the ending – Mark’s national fame – it will be interesting to see where the author takes him (and Neil) from here. I am curious to know and I hope other readers will be as well.