Format/Publisher/Year: Ebook (216 pages), Carina Press, 2010
Funny how much scarier being stalked by a serial killer is when you can’t even run.
After being kneecapped by a bullet in the line of duty, FBI special agent Elliot Mills is forced to retire from the job he loves and embrace a life of comfortable tedium as a history professor at a minor liberal arts college. Seventeen months after the accident that has left him crippled and isolated from his old life, Elliot is finally starting to get used to not wearing a shoulder holster (and the fact that the height of his current social calendar is dinner with his hippy father). But when students begin disappearing from his college and one of the victim’s bodies is dredged up from the campus lake, Elliot finds himself thrown into the murder investigation — and into a tense and bitter partnership with his former lover, FBI agent Tucker Lance.
There’s nothing very new about the outline of Fair Game’s story, but as usual Lanyon’s competence as a veteran mystery writer more than carries the book despite its familiar set up, and his talent for characterisation raises the calibre of what could have otherwise been a cut-and-dry crime procedural. Elliot Mills is both an admirable and believably flawed protagonist. His intelligence and dry observations are a pleasure to read, and I couldn’t help but feel his physical and emotional hurt as he drags his damaged body through feats it’s now barely capable of, all the while steeling his heart against Tucker and their forced reunion.
While Fair Game’s murder mystery component didn’t leave a huge impression on me, the story was still engaging and the investigation full of enough twists and red herrings to make both the revelation of the killer’s identity and obscurely psychotic motives a surprise. You could argue that there are actually too few clues for readers to piece together the truth for themselves, particularly when virtually every college faculty member and their dog is thrown under suspicion. Nevertheless, in a field crowded by too many mystery novels with lacklustre plots, it’s a refreshing change to be left in suspense until the final pages.
Of course, with a Lanyon mystery, the usual tropes and scenarios are everpresent: a protagonist steeped in academia is forced into reconnecting with his former lover, often a law enforcement type, in order to solve a crime and avoid becoming embroiled in scandal himself. But although it adheres to Lanyon’s usual romance-mystery formula, Elliot and Tucker’s bittersweet relationship is compelling. For all of Lanyon’s careful understatement, the sexual and emotional tension running between the two men as their romance slowly rekindles is as rewarding as it is heart-wrenching.
Fair Game is a clever and well-paced novel in its own right, and is one of my first recommendations for readers new to the m/m genre. Apart from anything else, it’s a damn satisfying romance.