Title: Bitter Legacy
Author: Dal Maclean
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Length: 350 Pages
Category: Police Procedural, Mystery/Suspense
At a Glance: Bitter Legacy is one hell of an impressive way to make a debut in this genre.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Detective Sergeant James Henderson’s remarkable gut instincts have put him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector. But the advancement of his career has come at a cost. Gay, posh and eager to prove himself in the Metropolitan Police, James has allowed himself few chances for romance.
But when the murder of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, all that changes. His investigation leads him to a circle of irresistibly charming men. And though he knows better, James finds himself enticed into their company.
Soon his desire for photographer Ben Morgan challenges him to find a way into the other man’s lifestyle of one-night stands and carefree promiscuity. At the same time his single murder case multiplies into a cruel pattern of violence and depravity.
But as the bodies pile up and shocking secrets come to light, James finds both his tumultuous private life and coveted career threatened by a bitter legacy.
Review: Kudos to Dal Maclean for making her debut novel a deeply compelling read. Maclean forgoes the bright and breezy romance route and treats readers to a novel that pits the investigation of a series of murders against the beginnings of what will prove to be a toxic relationship for Detective Sergeant James Henderson.
The police procedural aspect of Bitter Legacy gives readers an intimate look at the “one step forward, two steps back” of clue gathering and suspect interviewing in the seemingly unrelated murders of two young women. It sets the tone and pace of the novel, in the methodical and sometimes tedious process of investigating a crime with little to nothing to go on. Watching James operate as the lead investigator on the case also does a brilliant job of revealing who he is, not only as a bright young detective on the fast-track to promotion but as a man whose uncompromising instincts on the job run at complete odds with the compromises he is willing to make in his personal life to keep Ben Morgan in his bed—even if it means sharing Ben with a revolving door of hook-ups du jour. Witnessing James flounder out of his depth, grabbing for a lifeline and instead catching hold of an anchor that begins to drag him under, heart and soul, parallels the Sisyphean nature of the murder investigations—each shred of progress undone just as quickly as James thinks he has a handle on things.
Their relationship goes against the grain of who we see James to be in his professional life—a man whose intelligence and intuition have earned him enough respect to overcome his being dismissed for his posh good looks and his silver spoon upbringing. In his personal life, however, we see a James who’s not long out of the closet and never been with another man, in a direct conflict of lust and principles when his investigation throws him into Ben’s orbit. The detective in dogged pursuit of any lead that will support a hunch which defies the scant evidence that the murders are linked, isn’t the same man we watch ignore his own conscience and beliefs to be with someone whose sexual promiscuity defies James’s own desire for a monogamous relationship. I loved the conflict this introduced into the storyline. There is a depressive realism that unfolds for James as he loses his heart to Ben, only to watch his hope of being something more than another convenient lay ground under the heels of Ben’s disdain for the mere idea of monogamy. Ben is at once possessive and then contemptuous of James’s feelings, which is wrapped up in a “Scorpion and the Frog” element—you can’t be angry or shocked, really, when the scorpion behaves according to his nature.
So, unraveling the enigma that is Ben Morgan becomes integral to the storyline. He is at once kind and solicitous but can just as easily turn cruel and dismissive towards James, which is an added factor in the destructive nature of the relationship the author builds between them. There is a push and pull of sexual attraction and conflicting personal philosophies that then becomes overshadowed by red herrings and clues falling into place which not only appear to link the first two murders, but a third as well. The sense of urgency to solve these crimes begins to escalate along with the bombshell revelations and empirical evidence that begin to surface as James and company come closer to the truth. A truth with massive ramifications for both James and Ben. The gritty reality of the murders and the death throes of an impossible relationship work complementary to each other in the narrative.
The secondary characters round out the solid and meticulously parsed out building of this novel’s MCs. James’s partner, Alec Scrivenor, is an absolute standout and brought with him an unshakable source of support for James, as well as a good bit of levity and scene stealing too. The rising action as the plot reaches its boiling point resonates at a perfect pitch and sets the tone for the danger and drama as the tipping point leads to an explosive climax that doesn’t demonize the killer as much as it causes the reader some empathy pains, and what a great twist that was for a murder mystery.
You can buy Bitter Legacy here: