Title & Author: Ball & Chain by Abigail Roux
Series: Cut & Run (#8)
Early Release Date: March 9, 2014
Official Release Date: March 17, 2014
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Pages: 340 pages
Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Home from their unexpected deployment, the former members of Marine Force Recon team Sidewinder rejoin their loved ones and try to pick up the pieces of the lives they were forced to leave behind. Ty Grady comes home to Zane Garrett, only to find that everything around him has changed—even the men he went to war with. He barely has time to adjust before his brother, Deuce, asks Ty to be his best man. But that isn’t all Deuce asks Ty to do, and Ty must call for backup to deal with the business issues of Deuce’s future father-in-law.
Nick O’Flaherty and Kelly Abbott join Ty and Zane at the wedding on an island in Scotland, thinking they’re there to assuage Deuce’s paranoia. But when bodies start dropping and boats start sinking, the four men get more involved with the festivities than they’d ever planned to.
With the clock ticking and the killer just as stuck on the isolated island as they are, Ty and Zane must navigate a veritable minefield of family, friends, and foes to stop the whole island from being destroyed.
I woke up yesterday morning to find a veritable barrage of messages from friends in my email inbox, on Facebook, and all over Goodreads. All of these messages were variations on a theme of:
“OH MY GOD! IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! BALL & CHAIN HAS BEEN RELEASED EARLY! OH MY GOD! TY AND ZAAAAAANE! *SQUEEEEEEEE!!!*”
And, because I love Abigail Roux’s Cut & Run series probably more than is healthy and I’ve been waiting almost five months for this moment, my reaction went a little something like this:
“OH MY GOD! IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! BALL & CHAIN HAS BEEN RELEASED EARLY! OH MY GOD! TY AND ZAAAAAANE! *SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!*”
It was completely undignified (and I don’t care in the least). I’m not ashamed to admit that in that moment of discovery, had I needed to, I would have pushed small children, the elderly and even my own mother out of the way to get to my pre-ordered copy of Ball & Chain as soon as humanly possible. Thankfully, my Kindle is almost never further than arms-length away and a few clicks of a button later, Ball & Chain was mine.
Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the book and the opportunity to revisit two of my all-time favourite characters in the M/M romance genre, Ball & Chain didn’t quite manage to live up to my expectations.
Going into this book, I had high hopes for the mystery plot. I know that a lot of fans of this series merely tolerate its over-the-top mysteries and conspiracies because they provide a colourful backdrop for Ty and Zane, but I’ve always secretly loved them. They’re ludicrous, but that’s what makes them the perfect guilty pleasure. So, when the first dead body was discovered on the island, I was practically rubbing my hands together with glee and mentally preparing for all the snark and puns that were going to come my way.
But there’s no way to sugar-coat this one…. This plot completely jumped the shark. Even I couldn’t suspend disbelief this far. The body count? The reactions of the main characters? The motivations of those involved? The sheer number of those involved? The utter absurdity of who was behind it and the Machiavellian levels of machination and foresight it would have taken to pull off something of this magnitude?!? Good God! I felt like I was in a bad episode of Murder, She Wrote.
My brain just kept crying, “Abort! Abort! BAD plot bunnies! BAD!”
Thankfully, Ty and Zane still have insanely good chemistry together. When Zane and Kelly were standing at the docks waiting for the Sidewinders to disembark at the beginning of the novel, I had butterflies in my stomach because Zane had butterflies in his. His excitement and uncertainty and love were tangible and I couldn’t wait to see how everything played out. In the end, their reunion was sweet and cheesy and exactly what I was looking for from that moment. And that first sex scene in Scotland?! HELL-O! When I finished reading it, I had to look around see if I could bum a cigarette from someone. That shit was H-O-T.
But beyond that bedroom scene and a whole lot of truly adorable hand holding and shoulder nudging that made my heart happy, Ty and Zane’s dynamic fell a little flat for me in this one. There were some serious emotional landmines stepped on in Touch & Geaux that got roughly shoved to the side when the Sidewinders were suddenly recalled to duty. Ty and Zane had had six months without any communication; presumably they’d both done some serious thinking about themselves and their relationship and their future together while they were apart. In fact, Roux told us that they had. She also told us that they’d both changed, that Ty’s temperament was different now than it had been before his deployment. And yet… I didn’t really see any evidence of any of this. As far as I’m concerned, it was a whole lot of tell with very little show. I mean, heaven forbid the characters have a conversation about something this important.
One thing that I was really happy to see in this novel was the significant strides Roux took forward with Nick’s character. When we were first introduced to Nick in Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run #4), I actively loathed him for trying to come between Ty and Zane. I thawed towards him a little in Armed & Dangerous (Cut & Run #5) and a little more in Touch & Geaux (Cut& Run #7), but I still didn’t actively like his character. I read Shock & Awe (rolling my eyes at how Sidewinders turned out to be the most gay Marine Force Recon team in history) and thought that he and Kelly made an adorable couple, but I could really take them or leave them.
But Ball & Chain changed all that. It gave me a glimpse into Nick’s family history, his flaws, his fears, his demons, and a little about how dark and capable of destruction he really is. It shed more light on the complexity of his relationship with Ty, and filled me with warm fuzzies every time he looked or touched or even thought about Kelly. He’d finally become a three-dimensional character to me and demanded that I become invested in him. And I am.
Unfortunately, Ball & Chain is a Cut & Run book, not a Sidewinders novella. And although I enjoyed every moment that Nick was on the page, I couldn’t help but feel that the emphasis Roux put on his character in this novel detracted from the heart and soul of this series – the relationship between Ty and Zane. I felt that this was especially true given that the most emotionally stirring and tense moments in the books – those moments that most connect me to the characters – happened between Nick and Ty, leaving Zane to feel like a third wheel in his own story.
And don’t even get me started on the final few pages of the book! I could hardly believe how Roux sabotaged the drama and emotion of Ty and Zane’s final scene in the book by prefacing it with not one, but two Nick-centric scenes. Individually, they were good scenes, but HOLY STOLEN THUNDER, BATMAN! 😦
Let’s be real: Roux’s books are always fun to read. I love the characters. I love the universe they inhabit. I even loved that Roux threw in practically every inside joke that this series had into Ball & Chain. Any time a character tried to utter the word “vacation” (the “Lord Voldemort” of the Cut & Run series) or when Ty had to get on the horse, I felt like Roux was sending her fans a cheeky little wink – like every joke was a “thank you” for sticking with the series and supporting her work. I thought it was sweet.
But I can’t lie, even to spare feelings. Ball & Chain is the weakest book set in the Cut & Run universe and Roux needs to seriously up her game if she’s going to end the series on the high note it deserves.