Safeword by AJ Rose

SafewordWhy I read it:  I read the first book, Power Exchange,  a little while ago and really enjoyed it.  I bought both books at the same time but wanted to wait before reading the sequel.  After the somewhat disappointing experience of reading Aftermath, I picked up Safeword because I felt sure I could get the tension and the angst I had been looking for here.  Also, I like books about established couples – after the HEA is a fascination to me.

What it’s about: (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?

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Safeword had a bit of a slowish start for me.  I found myself taking some time to settle into the BDSM theme whereas I don’t recall having that problem in the first book.  It doesn’t really make sense and it’s not really fair, but I found myself being irritated by the capitalisation of Dom and feeling my feathers becoming ruffled by the power exchange aspects at the start of the story.  Which is ridiculous because I knew what I was getting when I opened the book.  And, while it appears I am not a “natural submissive” even remotely, I have had no problem enjoying books with these themes before.  So, I can’t really put my finger on what was bothering me at first.  I found myself thinking the beginning of the story was a little… clunky (?). Perhaps it was something in the writing – perhaps it was merely that I was feeling out of sorts.  Perhaps it had something to do with that Ben seemed to be unaffected by the events of the first book and it was only Gavin that seemed to struggle (this doesn’t continue – it becomes clear that Ben has his own demons to tame and, that’s one of the things which increased my satisfaction.).  But.

But, not too long after I was too engrossed in the story to think anything other than “what’s next?” and that which bothered me right at the start, snapped into it’s groove (or perhaps, I did) and the story flowed smoothly from there.

Someone is killing cops and Gavin appears to be a target.  There are abused teens who spark Gavin’s protective instincts and both his and Ben’s continuing recovery from the events in the previous book.  Just when they got their own relational groove back, things in the case ramp up to the point where Ben is just not coping with the risk Gavin faces every day and some hard choices are ahead.

The crime in this book was probably better developed than in the previous one, though Rose does give the villian enough of a story and character to make him somewhat sympathetic.  In that, one can feel bad for what led the killer to this killing spree while still deploring the killing itself.  It’s gruesome and tense – not so much a whodunnit as the first book – the identity of the killer is identified fairly early – but more a tense police procedural – as Gavin, Myah and their fellow officers attempt to catch the killer before more people die.

Events in the previous two years have changed Gavin profoundly – he’s come out as both a gay man and a submissive, he’s been tortured and abused by a sadistic killer and he’s been targeted by another – it’s not just Ben and the power of true lurrrve (TM) which lead Gavin to consider options that were not possible for him when he was married to Victoria.  While I felt the decision Gavin made was right and supported by the text and the characterisations, I would have liked a little more about it to satisfy myself it was a positive choice and not something which just kind of happened in a throwaway kind of manner.  That’s vague.  I’m sorry.  But I feel it would be too spoilerish to discuss things in more detail.

The first fifty to eighty pages were good but not as good as I’d experienced in Power Exchange (and I freely acknowledge this may well have been something to do with my headspace) but the last hundred or so pages more than made up for it.  And the middle was a very satisfying build.  It wasn’t a book I felt I had to “stick with” to make it through to the good bits. That is putting it too strongly.  But, for me at least, it had a slower start than I had been expecting.  However, the middle and and more than made up for it.  I ended up thinking the story was a worthy sequel to the first book and gave the entire series a well-rounded ending.  I enjoyed catching up with Myah and Cole and the other DeGrassis and I enjoyed the process by which Gavin and Ben both got their grooves back.  I don’t think it would be as satisfying to read this without having first read Power Exchange (and this book names the killer from the first book pretty early on) so read the first book first.  But, if you like it, you’ll like this one too.

Grade: B+

(the end was really good)

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