Max Lancaster’s neighbor — his muse, the young ballerina Elena– has gone missing. Between secrets from his past and the fact that he’s altering his work in his sleep, he’s worried that he’s lost his mind.
By the time forensic artist Sumner Ellison arrives as part of the investigation even Max can see himself in the role of person of interest. Sumner Ellison doesn’t believe that Max killed Elena, yet he isn’t certain Max is entirely sane. Questions arise that will test his faith in the artist again and again.
Sumner offers Max oblivion in bed and unflinching honesty. Max takes what Sumner has to give, losing himself in the younger man’s body while hiding his heart from Sumner’s love. When doubt pulls them apart, it takes the all of Max’s passion and the purity of Sumner’s faith to find answers create a love that won’t fade away over time.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
[I feel super picky going after the cover since I didn’t like the book but I don’t think the cover really does much for the story. I bought the book despite it. It’s not a horrible cover despite the naked chest it just doesn’t seem to fit the story. It’s dark and mysterious I guess but I think something dark and scary around an easel would have gotten the point across better?]
The concept of the story is really very good. I sat down to read Fugitive Color when I wanted a slam dunk good absorbing read. Since I’m a fan of ZA Maxfield and I really loved the blurb for this, I was excited. Unfortunately the story never lives up to the great summary and takes an obvious turn early on – there is practically a neon sign pointing to the bad guy – and some of the characters drove me insane. It’s not badly written per se and the characters are all fully realized but unfortunately the plot and way too easy, obvious, eye rolling contrivances were surprising (not in a good way) and ruined any reading enjoyment.
The story is actually based on a really interesting premise. A well known, if reclusive, painter is obsessed with painting ballerinas. When his muse goes missing and later turns up dead, Max is the most obvious suspect – even to Max’s eyes. Matters are further complicated by Max’s sleepwalking habit and lately he has been altering his work at night in some very disturbing ways. With Max confused and unsure of what he’s done, the police send in artist Sumner to befriend Max and learn more. Max and Sumner have instant chemistry and aren’t shy about acting on it, leaving Sumner incredibly confused about what and who to believe. When Max’s big brother and protector shows up, nothing is easy anymore.
The mystery itself – who killed the muse ballerina Elena – is unfortunately not very interesting. It could be and it has all the hallmarks of a good idea but somehow in the execution, it never came alive. The story is told from Max and Sumner’s third person point of view and so there isn’t so much a mystery so much as the question both men consider “Did Max kill Elena?” The clues to the answer are dripped out from very early on and there is one crucial scene between the brother, Max, and the cop that lays out the culprit in a neon sign. I was appalled and horrified at this turn, which is way too easy and makes little sense. But I kept hoping I was wrong. Unfortunately I wasn’t and the remainder of the novella as it lays out more drama and tension leads to a really bad..eye rollingly bad resolution.
What I didn’t like about the mystery and resolution is that the culprit never made much sense. There is a thin motive and some of the comments offered made sense with Max’s personality but overall it felt too pat and easy. As if there had to be a bad guy so pick this one from the cast at random. Parts of the explanation are classic bad guy scenes where he explains all his reasoning in a creepy weird way showing a real mental instability. But keep in mind this mental instability is of course so well hidden no one ever knows. Isn’t that always what they say about nice people? But do those nice people just snap out of nowhere and with no impetus? Who knows, but it felt too obvious and clichéd for me.
The characters are well rounded and fully characterized yet I struggled because I didn’t like any of them. Max as the painter is such a good idea that I really wanted to like him. He’s kind of a basket case and lives in his own isolated mind and world but he has moments of charm. Unfortunately he’s also incredibly immature and weak. Sumner tells him up front he’s working for the police yet Max opens up and tells all his secrets anyway. Max convinces himself he’s guilty based on, nothing really, and does almost everything he can to convict himself short of confessing. He does nothing to inspire Sumner’s unwavering loyalty and support and ultimately I wanted to slap Max silly to get a clue. I totally understand his brother’s comment about Max refusing to grow up and take responsibility for his actions.
Sumner is a little more likable since he has moments of honest fear and indecision but he kind of yo-yo’s back and forth. He goes from informing the police of evidence against Max and then going to sleep with Max since he now truly believes in him, then back again. While this is understandable to a degree, Sumner never really materialized on his own outside of the crush he had on Max. I never got a sense of why he loved and admired the man so much. Their romance felt weak and anemic especially during the large dramatic scene where one pushes the other away for their own good. I’m very tired of this overused trope especially when it the entire scene is very obvious for the reader.
ZA Maxfield is not a bad writer despite the sad 1 star rating GR’s offers for “I didn’t like.” I just felt this is a departure from her well thought out, intricate, interesting stories and well defined characters. If the issues I brought up wouldn’t bother you, you could like this offering. Some of the descriptive writing and emotional scenes are touching, poignant, and show the author’s strength. Unfortunately I found these glimpses couldn’t overcome the frustration I had with the story and characters.