Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
This is Xenia Meltzer’s first foray into murder mysteries, and it’s a good one. If the prose is not precisely gripping, the plot is, and the paranormal premise is superbly creepy. Also, the characters are wonderfully fleshed out, which is critical because the interactions between George Donovan and Andi Hayes give the book an emotional center that takes it beyond considerations of plot alone.
Andrew Hayes, known as Andi, is a hugely successful young homicide detective on the Charleston, South Carolina, police force. However, he’s a misanthropic grouch, and has been largely left alone to do his job. However, when an up-and-coming narcotics cop wants to move into homicide and gets a position in Charleston, he’s asked to partner with Hayes to monitor him. George Donovan instantly wonders at his new chief’s request, but sees working with Hayes as one more step in his career-driven ambition.
The surprise is that Donovan sees through Andi Hayes’s surly manner to recognize someone who is desperately alone. Instead of simply using Hayes as a tool to please his new boss and further his own career, Donovan gradually befriends of oddball loner and finds his efforts rewarded.
The twist in this story is that Andi Hayes has a special skill—a superpower, if you will; but one that is very much a double-edged sword. Andi can communicate with insects, all insects, and bugs and arachnids; indeed the whole phylum arthropoda. He can’t really talk to them, but he can hear them, all at once, and has learned to interpret what they say.
I tried this premise out on a friend as we were taking a walk in the woods this morning, without revealing anything about how it works in the book. His instant response was: “there are so many insects around us all the time—that would drive me crazy.”
Exactly what the author had in mind.
Andi’s success as a homicide detective comes at the cost of his own peace. He has learned to screen out the arthropods to some degree, but he can never really have any quiet. He also can never share his secret with anyone for fear of being considered insane. His surly personality is his only defense against the sort of human closeness that would jeopardize his secret.
Meltzer’s use of the insect voices is eerie and quite compelling. Andi’s commitment to justice—in the context of a pretty horrific crime—and his self-sacrifice to the voices of the insect world to find criminals, make him a weirdly sympathetic character. George Donovan sees this, and his sensitivity, which overrides even his own ambition, ultimately opens a pathway to an unlikely friendship between him and Andi. Their professional partnership goes beyond work, as George finds himself trying hard to protect Andi from those who don’t understand him. Andi, for his part, finds himself the object of genuine caring for the first time in his life.
If I have a complaint about this book, it’s that Andi and George’s friendship stops just short of where I want it to go. Is Meltzer going to take this friendship at step further in the next book? Ever? As much as I liked her handling of the paranormal twist to the plot, I was not, ultimately, satisfied with Andi and George’s relationship. I guess I’ll have to see what happens in the next book.