Sloan ParkerHow To Save A Life (The Haven, #1)Loose Id, January 15, 2013 | 378 pages, 111,000+ words
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Reporter Kevin Price has a knack for tripping over his own feet. And everyone else's. He's in over his head undercover at the Haven, a swanky gay sex club, determined to find out why members of the club keep vanishing. Five minutes inside and he can no longer deny the truth about his sexuality. He turns to the one man he can't get out of his head, the sexy ex-cop handling security. Too bad Kevin doesn't trust cops. Not since the only night he let himself be with another man.
Walter Simon doesn't do the club scene anymore. Not since he found love and lost it. That doesn't mean he'll let anyone hurt more innocent gay men. Even if that means going head-to-head with the klutzy, closeted, much-younger reporter. Kevin has information about the disappearances. Better to keep him close. And safe.
Neither is at the club to hook up or fall in love. Now they must work together amid their growing passion in order to uncover the truth before more men disappear.
How to Save a Life features Walter Simon, a secondary character from MORE, but can be read as a stand-alone story.
Genre & Keywords: M/M Romantic Suspense, Contemporary, Abduction, Violence, Gay Club, Reporter, Ex-cop, Coming Out, Age Difference
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2.5 out of 3 flames
I’m a huge fan of Sloan Parker’s work and she hasn’t disappointed me with any of her previous stories so far. However, her latest release, How To Save A Life, is my least favorite of her novels. It has in my opinion a few flaws that mainly come down to the pacing, some unlikely events and a general lack of focus. Of course there are also some much more positive elements, the major one being Parker’s fluent writing style, which made it possible to still enjoy How To Save A Life despite the things that didn’t work so well for me.
How To Save A Life is categorized as a romantic suspense novel, a genre I love. The suspense part in this story is focused around a series of disappearances of young gay men who are all members of the sex club The Haven. The romance arc shows the developing feelings between the young reporter Kevin and the older ex cop Walter who both investigate those disappearances.
These elements make for a great premise and, furthermore, they are only just a few of the elements you can expect when you pick up this novel.
The suspense plot line is much more complex than I expected, with secrets, corruption and links to the past, among others. I enjoyed the complexity very much. At the same time in the romantic story line the heroes have a few issues of their own to deal with, like past trauma’s, a coming out of the closet, and a problem with an age difference. All very good topics for a romance which I enjoy reading about as well.
However, all these things combined make for a full novel. And this is not even all there is. We also get the little extra of the villain’s point of view (and, very shortly, even that of one of the victims), which adds some thriller elements to the story.
All these aspects considered, I had a hard time figuring out what to focus on while reading this novel. Usually, I admire the balance Sloan Parker so easily seems to find between the different topics she deals with in her novels. This time however, there appeared to be too many topics and not enough balance. I was in particular confused about what genre I was reading most of the time. In some instances I thought the focus on the romantic (and erotic) parts was out of place and took too long, given the state of the investigation that the main characters should be concentrating on. Especially, during the first part of the book I felt that the romance parts sometimes overshadowed the urgency of the investigation, and things went too slowly.
Maybe this feeling was caused by the villain’s POV, of which we as readers had the knowledge while Kevin and Walter didn’t. So they weren’t aware of the evil things he did to his victims, but still, they knew the victims might be alive and needed to be rescued. And Kevin and Walter also knew that they were the only chance the victims had, since they hadn’t involved the police yet.
So, perhaps without the villain’s POV I would’ve felt differently about this particular issue, but another reason why I think his POV worked confusing for me, was that getting in the head of the bad guy added the elements of a psychological thriller to the story, without it becoming a real thriller. For me, his perspective felt superfluous in the sense that it didn’t add much but only removed the sting from the investigation arc. It took away a bit from the suspense (while I’m sure it was supposed to add to it) because we already knew things that Kevin and Walter didn’t know yet. Without the villain’s POV the focus would’ve been more solid on their discoveries regarding the missing men, and the novel wouldn’t have gone back and forth between romance, mystery and psychological thriller, like it did now. So, I think that the story would’ve been a lot stronger when Parker had only focused on the two more prominent genres, romance and mystery, like she did in Take Me Home.
I came to this conclusion partly because the weaker parts of the plot are in my opinion linked to the thriller elements and the related action the villain brings in. One of the scenes that didn’t quite work for me was the one where Walter and Kevin are in a motel room being ‘visited’ by the villain. I try to stay spoiler free here, but they fight, and during that motel room fight some very unlikely things happen, which made me shake my head in disbelief. Let’s say I expected something different from an ex cop as smart and burly as Walter. This and other action scenes also felt somehow stilled, the events not happening fluently, as if the players in the scene were waiting (and stopped acting) when it was the other player's turn to 'act'. While trying to visualize these action scenes I had difficulty with it, because of the inactiveness or improbable actions of the characters in some instances.
Also, everything that happened with Kevin after the mentioned motel scene was rather predictable and sometimes bordering on unrealistic, which didn’t prepossess the more thriller-like parts in my favor either.
One more aspect (in a way also related to the choice for the thriller elements), that wasn’t as perfect as I’ve become used to in Parker’s books, is the pacing. I love that she writes (extended) novels, because I always look forward to plunge in her narratives and stay there for a long time. But this time I found myself checking the page number more than once because I felt that things should’ve gone quicker (or later slower) than they had. In general I thought that the novel was too lengthy, sometimes bordering on long-winded, especially there where the pacing was slow. Later on in the story the pacing picked up significantly, but that’s when some of the events became less likely. I guess I was looking for more balance in this regard, so that I could completely forget that I was reading, let alone feel the urge to check the page number.
I’m aware that some of the things that I pointed out above are related to my personal preferences, like the fact that I’m not much of a fan of thrillers, but I wouldn’t have made these points if I hadn’t thought they were still valid points, based on how they are executed.
And like I said, there are also enough things that I enjoyed in How To Save A Life. One of the things that I admire Parker for is her writing style. She writes with care, in a clean and evocative style, with eye for detail. She gives the same dedicated attention to character development and to making her characters three-dimensional and authentic. Even while this novel is less of a character driven story than her other titles, she succeeds in making her characters well-developed and lovable.
Especially Kevin has earned a special place in my heart. He faces his fears with a vengeance instead of running away or hiding from them once he's discovered what's important to him. His excellently executed coming out is only one example of how bravely he deals with things. He's also somewhat of an adorable klutz; he's passionate about people and his beliefs; and although he's the younger, inexperienced partner in this relationship he seems to be the wiser one at times too. He brings lightness and humor into the equation as well, if it were for his funny underwear alone. I really loved the banter between Walter and Kevin, for example in the bedroom.
The novel ends with a classic gathering of all the characters that played a part in the story, whether they had a smaller or bigger role in solving the mystery, or none at all. This ending is entertaining and suits the mystery arc of the story. And in this scene we get a big hint which pairing we presumably will see in the second book of the series, and I must say that I think it will be an interesting one. Also, the presence of Matt, Luke and Richard from Parker's debut More, who occasionally showed up individually in the previous chapters, but show up all three together here, was a joy of recognition in itself and made this ending even more special. I have very good memories of reading their story, and although it's absolutely not necessary to read More for a better understanding of How To Save A Life, I can recommend reading it highly. And of course, it is the book in which Walter is introduced, but like I said, both books can easily be read as a stand-alone.
Overall, reading How To Save A Life was a slightly different experience than I'd come to expect from Parker's previous work. Compared to other stories in the genre it's still an above average written novel, but compared to other titles from this author herself I can't help but feel a bit disappointed - in particular about the execution of the suspense arc. Still, there are many elements and moments left to enjoy too. However, to a reader who has never read anything by Sloan Parker before I would recommend one of her other titles first. Any of her other novels show this author's brilliance much better!