Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book has a great premise and based on the raving reviews I'd read, I was sure it would be a sure winner. Well, I'm sorry to say that I failed to see what all the fuss was about...
Dr. Jack Francisco has the misfortune of witnessing a mob murder and has his life turned upside down. These particular mob murderers have been escaping the law for years and they've managed to be acquitted from every crime charged against them, as witnesses of those "alleged" crimes always disappear mysteriously before they get the chance to be called to testify. The DA isn't going to take any chances this time, so Jack is put under the FBI's Witness Protection Program. Jack knows that his life as he knows it is over, but he's a good, law-abiding citizen and wants to do the right thing.
D is an assassin for hire - an "eccentric" one, some would say. He has his own moral code and only takes jobs where the targets are bad guys themselves. One can think of him as a vigilante, only that he doesn't kill people out of some twisted sense of justice. He does it for money, period. He's offered the job to kill Jack, but he refuses because Jack isn't one of the bad guys. However, D's "employer" doesn't take "no" for an answer and blackmails him into doing it. Even so, D can't make himself kill Jack and decides to take the unfortunate doctor under his protection, knowing that other hit men will be called to do the job as soon as his blackmailer finds out he didn't do it.
That's how Jack and D meet and begin their journey together, dodging bullets, hiding and trying to stay alive long enough to allow Jack to testify. Will they make it? Or will they take the easy way out and choose to hide forever, letting the mob murderers go free? What about the growing attraction between them? Jack is an openly gay man, but D is straight... or so he keeps saying to himself. And what about D's "profession"? How can a law-abiding citizen like Jack accept what D does for a living? It doesn't matter that D claims to kill "only" the bad guys. Who's he to decide who's good and who's bad?
This was an uneven read to me. I loved the beginning and the way Ms. Seville set the story up with a few pages. Her writing was concise and direct, conveying all the necessary information with precision. Each scene was tightly woven, the action was riveting and non-stop. Then, once Jack and D had to stop and hide for a while, the tone and the pace of the story changed abruptly. That's the point when Jack started to probe into D's feelings, forcing the cold-hearted hit man to open up. I believe those moments were supposed to be emotional and all that, but I didn't get it. Sorry, I didn't feel the connection there. And when they finally became intimate, it felt like an act out of desperation, not love.
The story picked up some pace again when Jack and D worked their way through the tentative relationship and the mushy stuff was out of the way... or so I thought. My reprieve was brief, because Ms. Seville inserted another twist in the story and I had to deal with the Long Separation plot device and a lot - I mean, a lot! - of pining and internal whining from Jack (mostly) and D. Oh boy, I did not needed that so close to the end of the book! At one point, I was ready to kill myself if I found another italicized sentence in the book.
Anyway, they managed to clear everything up and the story came to an end... or so I though, again. I was quite satisfied reading the last chapter's final paragraphs, thinking that that was a surprisingly beautiful (even though far-fetched) HEA. Then I started reading the epilogue... WTF?!? It was the most depressing epilogue I've ever read. It erased the HEA and I was left full of doubts. An epilogue is supposed to give readers the assurance that the H/h are indeed living HEA, but this book's epilogue turned a satisfying HEA into a doubtful HFN. :(
As for Jack and D, I liked them but I didn't love them. D was a very tortured hero, but not the kind I wanted to hug and never let go. I don't know, he didn't have that special something that makes me love a tortured hero. Jack was your average nice guy. He was way more open than D - duh! - but somehow I didn't get to know him as well as I got to know D. Over the course of the story, D's past is revealed piece by piece, allowing me to understand why and how he had become who he was. I got nothing from Jack. I knew he had a family, but not who they were. Were his parents still alive? Did he have any siblings? Aunts? Cousins? Did he care about them? I'm hard pressed to say no, seeing that he didn't spare a single thought to them throughout the story.
Overall, this was an OK read. The good parts were great, but the bad parts were blah. She's got some short stories (featuring Jack and D) available on her website and I plan to check them out. Maybe I can get a better feeling of closure reading them.
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