Author: Rhys Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 206 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Mystery
At a Glance: Though I had some minor issues with this second book in the Half Moon Bay series, Hanging the Stars is still a fun way to spend a weekend.
Reviewed By: Cassie
Blurb: Angel Daniels grew up hard, one step ahead of the law and always looking over his shoulder. A grifter’s son, he’d learned every con and trick in the book but ached for a normal life. Once out on his own, Angel returns to Half Moon Bay where he once found… and then lost… love.
Now, Angel’s life is a frantic mess of schedules and chaos. Between running his bakery and raising his troubled eleven-year-old half brother, Roman, Angel has a hectic but happy life. Then West Harris returns to Half Moon Bay and threatens to break Angel all over again by taking away the only home he and Rome ever had.
When they were young, Angel taught West how to love and laugh, but when Angel moved on, West locked his heart up and threw away the key. Older and hardened, West returns to Half Moon Bay and finds himself face-to-face with the man he’d lost. Now West is torn between killing Angel or holding him tight.
But rekindling their passionate relationship is jeopardized as someone wants one or both of them dead, and as the terrifying danger mounts, neither man knows if the menace will bring them together or forever tear them apart.
Review: Like all of Rhys Ford’s books, this one starts off with a bang. That heart-racing, edge-of-your-seat action is one of my favorite parts of her writing, and she does these scenes really well. And even though the Half Moon Bay series is this author’s version of a cozy mystery (hint: it’s not that cozy), there’s still tension galore to keep you white-knuckled.
All of our favorite people from Fish Stick Fridays get at least a cameo, and some lovely new characters are introduced. The secondary characters in this book are really great. Angel’s baby brother Roman is a prepubescent bundle of little boy lost, intelligence, and issues—I ADORE him. He’s easy to love, and the interaction we see between him and Angel is really wonderful. But I especially loved the snippets of contact between Roman and Zig. Those two are destined to be soulmates; maybe just the best buds kind of soulmates, but whatever they’ll become, I’m pretty sure they’re going to form some kind of relationship that will keep them in each other’s lives until they’re dead…or they kill their guardians with stress, either one. I love them together. I ship their friendship SO HARD.
While I loved most of the characters in Hanging the Stars, there were some parts of the character arcs that actually didn’t work for me in this one. Character-wise, West sort of left me cold, though this could definitely just be a me thing. We get enough of his history in the book to float him some sympathy, but after reading Lang’s similar (to a point) backstory in Fish Stick Fridays, West’s past just didn’t engender in me the same level of sympathy or understanding for his course of action at Hanging the Stars’ opening as I had for Lang in his own story. I also really had trouble with how fast Angel and West fell into each other’s arms after having no contact for years, particularly given the sticky business situation going on at the time. Basically, Angel and West’s relationship jumps from 0 to 60, then cruises there for the rest of the book. I think I was hoping for something more nuanced or with more of a curve, so the romance component ultimately fell a bit flat for me.
The other characterization piece that I really struggled with was Marzo, West’s bodyguard/driver. I actually really liked his character, which is maybe why I put more focus and emotional investment into him than a small secondary character would normally warrant. His friendship with West and their byplay was really great, and was one of the few things I thought saved West from being a total ice prince. But the guy never actually did any guarding of West’s body. It really bugged me that he had bodyguard in his job title, but he was never in any of the scenes where a bodyguard was required or even expected. He was always absent when anything dangerous was going down, often after dropping West off and driving away. I really wish he had just been the driver, sans bodyguard title; then he would have been my favorite new character introduced to us in this book.
The overall pacing feels slightly off-kilter, as the characters careen from one emergency to another, then sort of stall out in brief moments of semi-calm. Possibly because no one in the main plot is actively investigating any of the mystery, as happens in some of Rhys Ford’s other series; it seems like the resolution comes kind of abruptly and out of left field. Without the investigation, it seems there aren’t many clues to the who-dunnit for the reader to pick up on, or, at least not many that this reader picked up on. Almost all the clues I did catch were in the latter half of the book, so it doesn’t feel like things are advancing apace until we’re pushed right into the climax. Then the “fade to black” and cut to the epilogue at the high point of the climax adds to that sense of abruptness. It’s a choice I understand, and it’s one that even mostly works. But it did leave me feeling a bit of whiplash and with a couple unanswered questions about the exact sequence of events in that penultimate scene.
In fact, the first 30% of the book is a question mark for me. We can assume that Angel’s intro is tied to the resolution of the whole book; there are some indications that this is the case, but there’s never an actual explanation. And West’s intro scene? I actually read the book twice, trying to figure out where and how his first scene tied in, and I still don’t know. There’s also an unresolved flying bullet that never really comes back up. I can’t even tell you who the bullet was intended for. Since these were the scenes that initially sucked me right into the action and set the pace and tension level in the rest of the book, I was really disappointed when these apparent loose ends were left to dangle. It made the entire resolution feel, well, not resolved. And it made that first third of the book feel a bit disconnected from the rest.
Hanging the Stars has all of Rhys Ford’s wonderful trademarks: detailed action sequences, robust and well-painted secondary characters, hot love scenes, and that gritty-beautiful and heartbreaking prose. All the things we expect and adore from one of her books, and all of which are reasons I am a huge fan. But, because of the few problems I had with the characters and plot, I would have to call this one my least favorite of all her books. Since she has some truly spectacular books to her credit, that still makes this a good one, so don’t let my saying that prevent you from checking it out. If you loved Fish Stick Fridays, you’ll like Hanging the Stars. If you don’t enjoy police procedurals or heavy investigation mixed in with your action, Hanging the Stars has you covered. Heck, if you’re like me and you’ve read all of her books (multiple times), go get this one, too! It’s a fun way to spend a weekend, even if it’s a rare 3 star in her constellation of 4s and 5s. Rhys is still the only author currently on my auto-buy list; which means I buy and read and enjoy every single book she writes, without exception, and I plan on continuing to do so until she stops writing books (which I hope will be never!).
You can buy Hanging the Stars here: