Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox
(Part of His For The Holidays Anthology)
Detective Inspector James McBride is riding high on the belief that he’s about to bust a human-trafficking ring. But just five days before Christmas, his unorthodox methods catch up with him and his world comes crashing down.
McBride tries to concentrate on his new day job as security for the visiting Israeli ambassador. He even starts to feel a renewed sense of self-worth when the leader of the Israeli team, the aristocratic Tobias Leitner, takes a bullet for him in the line of duty. But he can’t forget the trafficking case, especially when his investigations result in the kidnapping of his own daughter! McBride has no one to turn to for help—no one, except Toby.
Can these two very different men work together to bring about a holiday miracle—and heal one another’s heart in the process?
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Nine Lights over Edinburgh is Harper Fox’s contribution to the Carina Press anthology. Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of Fox’s writing and author voice so I’m definitely not the target audience for this story. In some ways she really shines with unique characters and a real flair for dramatic tension and brooding. Yet the plodding pace and overly verbose prose kills the story for me every time. If you’re a fan of Fox, you already like the writing style and I think this more unique story will easily appeal.
Immediately readers are thrown into the Edinburgh setting. Detective Inspector James McBride is not your typical cop hero. He’s a closeted homosexual, he drinks too much, spends way too much time alone, and has started to slip in his work. He’s working undercover on a human trafficking ring, attempting to get inside to the man in charge. Yet McBride’s alcoholism and unwillingness to work with others has not only thrown his career into jeopardy but suddenly has potentially dire consequences. A new ally Toby Leitner helps McBride make sense of his life and may just save his life as well.
The story has a darker, brooding feel to the holiday time. It’s set around Christmas but due to the darker actions and feel to the story, there is nothing especially festive. McBride is an anti-hero. He drinks too much, wallows in self pity, neglects the daughter that he adores and loves, and has pretty much thrown away his life. When he meets Toby, James is convinced he’s a bad man and not worth saving. The deconstruction of James is so thorough and well crafted that unfortunately I too believed that James is not a very good man. Not all of his problems stem from his own actions or inactions but his reactions are almost always self destructive and selfish. So by the time the story offers Toby as the love interest, I couldn’t quite understand why Toby would want James.
Toby is suffering from his own demons and makes another great tortured hero. Fox knows how to deliver complex characters that are filled with emotional spaces and gray areas. In fact I found her characters to be fascinating and thus why I read even though I don’t particularly enjoy the writing style and awkward prose. Toby is a great character with his broken heart and suddenly questioning ethics but I never quite understood why Toby would be interested in James. To an extent, Toby does save James and offer redemption so I think many readers will be satisfied with that. I wasn’t entirely and never felt the relationship between Toby and James made sense. It feels forced and manipulated rather than organic and natural.
The police story of the mob boss and James’ undercover work is interesting and carries the most tension in the story. Finding out what happens, with the twist of James’ family thrown in, is what keeps you engaged and reading. I found the pace kind of slow and while I read it to the end to see what happened, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading and took frequent breaks. The dark tone to the story fits well with the tortured characters and creates a brooding atmosphere at distinct odds with the holiday time. I have no idea if the Edinburgh setting is accurate or genuine so I can’t comment but it creates a definite doom and gloom feeling to the story that matches the complex characters and situations.
There is nothing rushed in this novella and though it runs longer than I’d have liked the nuances and subtle building never stop. None of the characters feels unimportant or throw away and each are three dimensional and well crafted. There are no cut and dry evil or good people and those shades of gray make the story compelling. Unfortunately Fox’s writing style is not for me so I think fans of the author will greatly enjoy this. If you’re new to Harper Fox, this is a good introduction to her style and voice.