First and foremost, The Little Death is not a romance at all. This is misleading being that it’s sold at a purely romance publisher – DSP – and there is no mention anywhere that this isn’t a romance so readers beware. This is definitely a hard broiled detective story that borrows heavily from the noir genre. The similarities are obvious and often referential which means this story is likely to appeal to those fans first and foremost. The writing is good but the story is over the top and the hero is damn near indestructible, which makes for considerable suspension of disbelief required. Additionally the story purposefully keeps important details away from the reader so the ending is out of the blue and somewhat deceitful. As an average detective story, this one is ok with the writing better than the actual story.
Jake Falconer is your average detective, living and working in Echo City. He takes on a missing person’s case mostly because he needs the money and the twin bother is pretty fuckable. As these things always go bad Jake soon becomes embroiled in a complicated mystery that turns deadly. With the help of his on-again, off-again cop boyfriend, Jake struggles to figure out the mystery and realize just who is playing him and why.
The plot itself is pretty basic and as I’ve said, borrows heavily from various noir genre movies and books. The novella does reference these similarities so it’s clear the writing and story want you to make the connections. In some ways this is an easy way to build on past works and this isn’t always a favorite trick of mine. I prefer if books take an established concept and make it their own rather than pulling bits and pieces from others in the genre. In this case almost all the characters are pretty standard and don’t stray from their predictable stereotypes.
There’s the main protagonist, Jake, who is over the top in every way. He’s a functioning alcoholic private investigator that not only knows every cliché, but strives to match each one. He’s a bastard with no real allegiances to anyone and has no difficulty using his ex-boyfriend the cop in whatever way he needs. Jake manipulates people around him and of course is so arrogant that he’s in turn manipulated pretty easily as well. Jake’s a difficult character to like because he has no real redeeming qualities. The story is told from his perspective and he loathes himself to a pretty heavy degree so the reader can’t help but pick up on those emotions and feel the same. He’s not an underdog but instead a pretty horrible man that takes a beating and brushes off the affects like nothing.
Which is my second issue with the story. Jake gets beaten badly and often, yet this never keeps him down for more than a few hours. It’s pretty ridiculous and gets more over the top as the story goes on. Yet the story contradicts itself in the end wrap up by saying it took weeks for Jake to recover from his injuries. However while the story is taking place, the injuries don’t slow Jake down whatsoever and make him seem superhuman. It’s silly to be honest given the level of damage Jake takes and I wish the story had been more realistic and less superhero in that detail.
The secondary characters are pretty one-dimensional and fill various needs of Jake’s. One is the homme fatal, a beautiful model and twin of the missing boy. This character serves to mislead and manipulate Jake in obvious ways while the story withholds important information so you can’t get a real picture of the character. Likewise Kyle, the cop ex-boyfriend, is pretty ridiculous. He may be in love with Jake but it’s an unhealthy, very destructive relationship that Jake preys upon. Jake constantly manipulates and uses Kyle while Kyle comes across kind of slow and naïve. He has no reason to believe anything a liar and user like Jake would say but trusts him anyway. Kyle serves his purpose to constantly get Jake out of police trouble so Jake can go off solving the case without any messy legalities.
What really works in this story is the writing, which is far better than the actual story. The descriptive turn of phrases are vivid, eye catching, and very dynamic. The dialogue feels authentic and gritty while the setting is graphic and never forgotten. The writing elevates this somewhat familiar story into something interesting even as the ending is deceptive. The story keeps many, many important details hidden so the reader won’t be able to figure out the ending. It’s impossible because details are being revealed up to the very last second. This keeps the reader guessing but also makes the story feels as though it’s throwing in ideas whenever it feels like it. I wish the details had been cleverly hidden along the way so an astute reader could piece together the solution or most of it anyway.
Overall I enjoyed Little Death but it’s not a story I’d read again nor would I be really interested in any sequels. Jake is too destructive and negative of a character to root for and his superhero abilities make it kind of silly. I do, however, like this author’s writing quite a bit and wish she’d turned this theme a bit on its head as she’s clearly capable of doing. I’d like to read a wholly original idea as I think that’s where this writing will shine the most.