Title: High Concept
Author: Whitley Grey
Cover Art: Mina Carter
Buy Link: Buy Link High Concept
Length: Novel/103,015 words
Genre: Police procedural/Suspense/Contemporary M/M romance
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A review by LadyM
Review summary: A bit crowded and sometimes slow, but good police procedural intertwined with burgeoning relationship between a closeted cop and an FBI profiler.
Blurb: Denver homicide cop and shooting survivor Beck Stryker lives to solve the case that left him with PTSD, chronic pain, and killed his co-investigator four months previous. Now his career hinges on his ability to work with the man who shut down his advances two years ago.
After last parting ways with Beck, psychiatrist-turned-FBI profiler Zach Littman never anticipated seeing the detective again. Being sent to Denver to work on a series of killings that have continued after the only suspect died is bad enough. Discovering the detective in charge is Beck leaves Zach gritting his teeth and girding his loins.
The last thing either of them needs is romantic entanglement with a fellow investigator, but danger is a powerful aphrodisiac. The case heats up, and friction between them ignites a fire neither can ignore, first at work and then in the bedroom. As they zero in on the plot behind the murders, the crosshairs zero in on Beck and Zach.
After his partner is killed while they were trying to apprehend the suspect in two home invasions, Detective Beck Stryker fights PTSD, survivor guilt, pain and the possibility that he’ll never be an officer in the field again. He feels responsible for his partner’s family and isolated from the world because his partner was the only one who knew that he is gay. When another home invasion happens, FBI profiler Zach Littman is called to help and further complicates Beck’s life because he once made a pass at Zach and was rebuffed because Zach was in a relationship. The attraction is still there and it’s mutual, but Zach has his own set of problems, including an incarcerated serial killer who once hurt him and an ex-boyfriend who wants to get back with him.
High Concept is not a mystery, but a police procedural: the villain is known early into novel. While the procedural is done very realistically, sometimes it goes overboard in a way that hurts the overall story. There is only so much report reading, dead end leads and interviews that a plot can take. Kudos for realism, but fiction sometimes requires a bit of shorthand. I also had a problem with a couple of Zach’s decisions: to make a presumption about Beck based on past bad experiences, and to confront the murderer on his own. There is a lot going on in the novel and sometimes certain plot lines just disappear for a while, only to pop up later and be tied up within a single scene. Some were left open-ended, which is fine, because real life is rarely neat. However, you have to ask yourself why some of them were even in the story. I thought that some of that space could have been used to further develop the case and the men’s relationship. Of course, some of these plot lines may be used in a potential sequel, but I am not aware that the author has a plan to write one.
The men are both likable, serious about their work and commitments. After initial animosity, they start working well together and the mutual attraction flares up again. Beck has a lot of things to deal with, not just related to his injury. He is in the closet and has to deal with a fellow officer with whom he had a brief relationship as well as scrutiny of his colleagues after the shooting. He worries about possible consequences of coming out and about his partner’s family, especially Marybeth, who started drinking after losing her husband, Beck’s partner. Zach wonders if a career in the FBI is the right choice for him and worries about his ex Dean, who is a recovering addict and wants to reconcile. The possible ending of the case and separation looms over them as well.
The villain of the piece and the third largest character in the book – Isaac Olivetti – is perhaps the weakest link, character-wise. The author reveals him slowly throughout the novel: as a corrupt businessman running for governor, high-functioning sociopath adept at manipulation and, finally, as the serial killer. It seemed to me that the author checked all the psychological traits of a sociopath in creating Olivetti, but that didn’t necessarily produce depth – he is completely one-dimensional. It was perhaps inevitable for me to compare him with another serial killer in this genre, Julie Bozza’s John Garrett, who even inspired sympathy at one point. Olivetti, however, is completely black with no trace of anything to give him life. The other characters are painted in very broad strokes, but that was sufficient for the story which centers on the police investigation.
The writing style is simple, sometimes almost stark. The author has a penchant for incomplete sentences which sometimes works well within a scene, sometimes not. I know that some readers had a problem with the style, but I didn’t mind as it reminded me of some mainstream police procedurals I’ve read.
High Concept is the first Whitley Gray story I’ve read and while I had some problems with it, I think it won’t be the last. The book is a solid police procedural with two likable protagonists and if cops are your flavor, this could be a book for you.