Chasing Smoke by KA Mitchell
In the best of times, Daniel Gardner hates visiting his family. With his boyfriend pressuring him for a mortgage-serious commitment, Christmas in Easton, PA sounds, for once, like a welcome escape. His old house holds more than memories of a miserable adolescence, though. It has Trey Eriksson.
At seventeen, Trey was taken in by the wealthy Gardner family after his father was jailed for his mother’s murder. Until he left for the Army, he fought a double-edged battle—for proof of his father’s innocence and against his attraction to Daniel.
Fifteen years later, things haven’t changed. Trey is still looking for the real killer. And Daniel has never forgotten how Trey used to sneak into his room at night.
Now new clues to the murder are resurfacing—and so is Trey and Daniel’s sexual chemistry. Except this time, Trey has come to terms with his orientation.
But their connection may not be enough to overcome the mistakes of the past. Not while a murderer still walks free…
This story is about childhood friends who were brief lovers but are thrown together fifteen years later to solve the mystery that has haunted both men and may revive their jilted romance. Unfortunately the mystery aspect is obvious, trite, and poorly conceived on every level. Even the relationship between the two men is distant, cold, and unappealing. Although the writing shines in the sex scenes, which are numerous and lengthy, the plot was weak and riddled with holes that even hot sex can’t fill. I personally was bored with the predictable and disjointed plot that even two hot men having sex couldn’t pull my attention back in unfortunately.
The premise of the story revolves around the shooting of Trey’s parents fifteen years ago. Since then Trey has been on a mission to prove that his father wasn’t responsible for the alleged murder/attempted suicide and now that Danny is back in town, together they can solve the long standing mystery. At the same time Trey and Danny must examine their feelings for each other and whether they want more than just sexual chemistry as they work to find the answer to the question of Trey’s parents’ deaths.
The actual mystery is anything but as there are several plot holes, dangling information, leaps of knowledge, and everything hinges on the finding of ridiculous clues in very classic “ah ha” moments. These include the infamous and essential picture leaping out of a randomly dropped book, the single letter as the only thing left in an emptied drawer, and numerous attempted break-ins, assaults, and arsons which are never solved but blamed on the most influential and obvious suspect. Of course Danny and Trey have no evidence for any of this and never accumulate any either, with no reason to leap to the wild accusations they do. Nor is there any evidence offered in any coherent, intelligent discussion. Instead everything is based off a picture in very confusing and disjointed assumptions. This entire storyline was distracting and detrimental to the story as it was not the book’s strength. The resolution at the end was over the top ridiculous–almost eye rolling—and predictable from extremely early on in the book.
So while the mystery portion was surprisingly bad from a previously solid author, the relationship between Danny and Trey is shockingly not much better. Danny and Trey were teenage friends who fooled around some but due to inexperience, immaturity, and sexual confusion, nothing came of their fooling around. Danny alternatively holds a grudge about this non-starter relationship with Trey which leads him to be cold and standoffish at times. Other times Danny seems to get over the grudge and ignores their past history, correctly excusing the behavior of two immature and confused teenagers. This back and forth continues for most of the book where the main tension is from both men thinking all they are doing is having great sex without much more depth or context to their relationship. Considering these two already knew each other as teenagers, the story and writing offers no new insight into their personality and nothing to create added depth to these men as adults.
Both Danny and Trey are sketched outlines of men without the color, texture, and weight to bring them to live and give believable tension to their relationship. The alternatively hot/cold emotional battle the men go through was distracting because there was no reason for it. Both men early on decide they want more but they are afraid to ask for a real relationship, thus leaving this as two men who are willing to have sex frequently and in every conceivable way but won’t talk about the dreaded feelings. This trope didn’t feel especially fresh or unique in this story but felt staid and predictable. Furthermore, there was so much sex that didn’t lead to deepening the relationship but instead filled at least a third, if not more, of the book with hot, fluff sex. The final resolution to both the relationship and mystery happened in the same weird, dramatic scene with both men storming out of the room at different points. The tension and provocation for this emotional and dramatic scene was missing and left these men looking like children having a temper tantrum by storming out.
So if the mystery didn’t work and the relationship wasn’t much better – what did work? Well this actually isn’t a lost cause because the author is clearly talented and a strong writer. The mystery theme here overwhelmed and destroyed the book in my opinion but otherwise the relationship and complexity of the men could have rightfully starred. While the relationship wasn’t successful, this was due to the blending of the action plot with hot sex, leaving the men unexplored. The few scenes where the men did actually interact with some tension and emotions were wonderful scenes that stood out and snapped the attention and focus back to the main characters. The secondary character of Ginny was strong and colorful but again, given no purpose. Even the reason she was introduced at the awkward dinner at Trey’s was never explained and she steals the attention in scenes without a reason. But the character was vivid and interesting.
This story has high points that show the author’s real strength in creating dynamic characters and the premise of the story was great. Unfortunately the ill-conceived and poorly executed mystery overwhelmed and overshadowed the entire book, ruining the potential between the leading men. This is not a slam dunk for the talented author and I hope mystery themes will be markedly absent in future stories. The real strength and positive aspects of the story are the characters themselves and no doubt the next story will rightfully focus back on these elements to readers’ delight.
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