Review: Safeword by A.J. Rose

Safeword CoverTitle & Author: Safeword by A.J. Rose
Series: Power Exchange (#2)
Release Date: June 2, 2013
Publisher: Voodoo Lily Press
Pages: 333 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Everywhere Detective Gavin DeGrassi looks he’s reminded of his attack by the Breath Play Killer. It’s in the house he lives in with his partner and Dom, Ben Haverson. It’s in the sympathetic yet pitying looks he receives from his fellow detectives when he returns to the force after a year-long hiatus. It’s in the suffocating coddling of his entire family, and the relentless reporter demanding an exclusive of his ordeal.

Most of all, it’s in his lack of submission to Ben, who isn’t convinced Gavin’s recovered enough to trust the power exchange between them.

The miraculous recovery of two teen boys from a twisted kidnapper gives him heart, and Gavin’s determined to prove he can handle anything despite increasing strain between him and Ben, painful nightmares, and panic when anyone touches him.

But his next case is too close for comfort: a friend and colleague found raped and murdered in a fate chillingly similar to what could have been his own, and this killer isn’t stopping with one cop. As the body count rises and taunting souvenirs are being hand-delivered to Gavin, he faces a frustrating lack of leads, a crushing need to prove himself, and a sinking suspicion the imprisoned kidnapper’s reach is further than originally thought. A miasma of uncertainty and fear threaten to suffocate him when he asks a question with which he’s overwhelmingly familiar: what happens when a victim is pushed too far?

My Thoughts:

6:00 a.m.

No, that is not the ungodly hour I had to get up this morning; it’s the time that I finally made it to bed, bleary eyed and exhausted after staying up all night to finish reading A.J. Rose’s Safeword (the second installment in his Power Exchange series).

And it was so, so worth it.

Safeword picks up in the aftermath of the trauma left by the Breath Play Killer in Power Exchange and to say that it’s an unsettling place to be would be a gross understatement. Ben and Gavin have been through hell together. They’ve had their sanctuary invaded, their bodies abused, and the foundation of their relationship ripped apart. Somehow they’ve come out the other side, but that trauma is like a permanent black mark on their lives – colouring their reactions to everything that comes after.

But, as A.J. Rose said every time I railed at him via Twitter for putting some of my favourite characters through hell:

The bigger the catastrophe, the bigger the catharsis.”

And he was right.

Rose did a fucking fantastic job of showing the struggle that these characters went through during this novel. The anger, the pain, the guilt, the fear, the frustration, and the never-ending tension that stretched and stretched until you just knew something or someone was going to snap – it was all there on the page. And through all that – or, perhaps more accurately, above all that – was the love that Ben and Gavin felt for one another. I never doubted that the love was there, but the struggle was written so realistically that there were points in the novel when I worried that the characters may not recover enough to make it together. Those were the moments when my gut clenched uncomfortably and tears prickled behind my eyes. I know I’m a giant sap, but this book moved me.

As strong as Rose’s characterizations of Ben and Gavin are, the novel’s secondary characters shouldn’t be overlooked. Cole’s great and Gavin’s partner, Myah, is one of the best supporting female characters that I have come across in a long while. She’s complex, intelligent, intimidating, intensely loyal and protective. She’s also witty and thoughtful and capable. I love that she’s a compassionate human being who hasn’t let what she’s seen on the job make her jaded, but she’s also tough as nails when she needs to put scum (and homophobic a-holes) in their place. In other words, she’s an admirable character regardless of her gender (though her gender is worth noting simply because so few female characters of her depth and ability exist in the romance genre). It probably says a lot that if Myah existed in real life, I both would never want to meet her in a dark alley AND I would want to be friends with her.

In terms of the mystery at the centre of Safeword, I thought that it was extremely well done (much more complicated, unique, and realistic than the one in Power Exchange). The pace of this case was slow and the results of Ben and Myah’s legwork often frustrating and coming to nothing, but the tension and urgency were palpably building under the surface the whole time. When the serial killer is revealed and then tracked across the city, I wasn’t left yelling “it’s about damn time!” at my Kindle the way I did with Power Exchange. No, this time I was swept along for the ride, wishing I had an “oh-shit” bar to hold onto.

My only real complaint about the mystery aspect of the novel was that while I thought Rose built a plausible case for why the serial killer did what they did (and their motive seems authentic given what we knew about them), I still felt like the sexual aspects of the crimes were never fully explained to my satisfaction. Regardless, it was interesting to see how another character responded to trauma in a completely different way than Ben and Gavin did. It was like a glimpse into how Gavin’s recovery could have gone had he not had such an incredible support network or been as strong as he was.

(FYI, it is incredibly difficult to write about the serial killer without giving away major spoilers, so please excuse my vague language.)

Bottom line: I loved this book (and the series as a whole).  Power Exchange and Safeword combine cops, BDSM, sexy men who love other men, thrills and suspense, genuinely emotional moments, and a whole lot of other stuff that I love to read about all in one nearly perfect package.

So perfect that I wish that there were a third book in this series.

I know, I know – I’m being incredibly selfish. Ben and Gavin deserve to put all of the murder and mayhem behind them and enjoy their hard-won happily ever after, but my heart wants what it wants (and it wants more Ben and Gavin). They are one of my favourite couples in the MM genre, so even though I’m grateful that Rose gave these characters a satisfying end without making it into a sappy Hallmark event, I’m sad to see the last of these boys.

I guess I’ll just have to re-read it. 🙂

If you don’t pay attention to any of my other book recommendations, pay attention to this one:

Read the Power Exchange series. You won’t be sorry. 

My Rating:
2 Smooch3 Smooch

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