Edit 12/27/16: After some much mulling over, I decided to drop this from 4.5 stars to an even 4 stars. There's an apologist angle to the plot that just rubs me the wrong way. As my man Jake once so eloquently said:
Stop making excuses for murderers, y'all. Just stop.
I started this one with lukewarm feelings, as my previous updates showed. It had a somewhat shaky start, for one. For another, all my friends loved this, which seems like a strange reason to be cautious going into a book but I'm more often than not the odd one out, the who hates what everybody else loves. And while the nitpicking I did at the beginning was justified, this proved itself capable of rising above its shaky first impression to blow my mind.
So let's get the things that bugged me out of the way to focus on the good stuff.
~Abuse of adverbs, in the first few chapters especially. Seriously, I'm still trying to figure out how gloves can be "violently lilac" or how a lounge can be "expensively scented." Overall, there were just too many descriptors crammed into single sentences. Thankfully, once everything and everyone was set up and described, this issue more or less went away.
~There were some continuity errors, like James putting on a full-body containment suit then worrying about accidentally leaving his DNA, like hair, on the crime scene. A good content editor should've picked up on those things.
~Editing throughout isn't too bad, but there are extra words, missing words, misused words (though that could be an American vs British English thing), and misplaced words all throughout the book. Not enough to make me throw my hands up or anything, but enough that I decided it was worthy of a mention.
~James conveniently noticed important evidence for no reason whatsoever except for Plot.(show spoiler)
Thankfully though, this is also an issue of setting up the initial crime scene and the talents of our DS Henderson, and this sort of clunky exposition also improves as the story progresses.
~The very ending - I'm just not sure I buy it the way it's written. And that's all I can really say about it without giving too much away.(show spoiler)
Now onto the good stuff:
I don't really know how to talk about this book without giving too much away. I'll do my best.
First and foremost, this is a police procedural. On that end, it could've been paced better. We're left hanging on the investigation for large sections of the book while James deals with his personal life, and what we do get comes in heaps. When we do get it though, it's generally well-plotted and everything is given to us to figure it out. I actually had the correct perp pegged at one point,(show spoiler)
but there was sufficient enough evidence for others to be the perp that it got muddled and forgotten. Just as James forgot his own instincts and theories about the murders being more than just random happenstance. When the pieces finally do start falling into place, it's a race to the finish line and you better make sure you don't have to get up early for work the next morning. I had to put the book down at close to midnight last night because my Kindle was telling me I still had four and-a-half more hours of reading time ahead of me. I wasn't remotely sleepy, and I can't tell you the last time that's happened to me with a book.
There's a love interest and a "love story" of sorts, but this is far from the typical M/M romance, enough so that I would caution anyone going into this looking for romance to leave your expectations at the door. If you're looking for sweet nothings and warm fuzzies, look elsewhere. It gets grim, folks. There are insecurities on both sides, emotional abuse and manipulation and even gaslighting to an extent. And while I would usually be completely annoyed with the sort of behavior James displays here, it was written so well and so intimately that I could fully understand why he was putting himself through it, even as I began to fear for him and his emotional stability - among other things - more and more as the story progressed. I couldn't even be too pissed off at Ben because James knew the score and decided to stay anyway. Really, I think this is Maclean's strongest writing here. She captures emotion and inner turmoil better than most authors I've read, and she drapes it over the story and the reader like a stifling, comfy blanket.
The secondary characters are well-written and even those with a few scenes and lines are fully realized. They're just as real as the main characters and while we may not get to know them as well, they're just as important to the plot and the pacing. They help balance out all the forlorn density that would otherwise overtake the story. Scrivenor especially is a breath of fresh air every time he's in a scene. He's probably the least complicated character in this story.
And that's really all I can say without giving away too much. Just read the book.
This is a fabulous debut novel and I'm going to be on the lookout for anything Ms. McLean offers up in the future.